WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush Monday was conferring with leaders of the former Soviet republics of Lithuania and Ukraine in a bid to shore up support for the two emerging democracies as Russia’s regional power grows.
Another former Soviet republic, Georgia, last month tried to retake control of the breakaway pro-Moscow region of South Ossetia but was met with a large Russian military retaliation that sent worries rippling through the region.
Bush praised Lithuania’s President Valdas Adamkus for backing Georgia during the crisis, acknowledging that it was a difficult position for the country to take at the time.
He also said the two discussed the need for “democracies to be able to stand on their own feet without fear of bullying,” Bush, speaking to reporters alongside Adamkus, said after the meeting. “You made some very courageous statements on that issue and I appreciate that.”
The Baltic states, Ukraine and other former Soviet allies issued harsh condemnations after Russia’s invasion deep into Georgian territory in August.
The United States and key members of the NATO alliance have also sought to shore up support for Russia’s neighbors.
Bush reaffirmed NATO’s support for member Lithuania and the commitment in the alliance’s treaty that says an armed attack on one member was an attack on the entire group and the members would come to the aid of that country.
“It’s important for the people of Lithuania to know that when the United States makes a commitment, for example, Article V of the treaty, we mean it,” Bush said, referring to the mutual defense part of the alliance.
Bush later Monday meets with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko who last week said his country would not be deterred from its bid to join NATO despite opposition by Russia.
“The president and President Yushchenko will discuss how to reinforce democracy, security and national sovereignty in Ukraine and throughout the region,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.
Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by