Pence Slams Russian 'Occupation' on Georgia Visit

US Vice President Pence told Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili the ex-Soviet state is a "key strategic partner" for Washington. (Zurab KURTSIKIDZE/POOL/AFP)
US Vice President Pence told Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili the ex-Soviet state is a "key strategic partner" for Washington. (Zurab KURTSIKIDZE/POOL/AFP)

US Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday blasted Russia's "occupation" of Georgian territory, as he pledged Donald Trump would sign off on new sanctions against Moscow "soon".

Pence is currently on a tour of Eastern Europe aimed at reassuring US allies rattled over Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and backing for a bloody separatist rebellion in Ukraine.

Standing alongside Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Pence pledged firm US support for the small Caucasus nation and slammed Russia's military presence on its territory since a brief 2008 war.

"We are with you, we stand with you," Pence said, calling the ex-Soviet state a "key strategic partner" for Washington.

The vice president reiterated America's firm backing for Georgia's hope of joining military alliance NATO, a goal that has stirred fury in Moscow.

Georgia's tilt to the West set it on a collision course with Russia that exploded into a conflict over the breakaway region of South Ossetia in 2008.

Moscow officially recognized South Ossetia and another rebel province Abkhazia as independent after routing Georgia's forces and moved thousands of its troops into the regions.

Pence said the "US strongly condemns the occupation" that "sees Russian tanks parked on Georgian soil".

While in the country, Pence gave a speech to some 750 troops taking part in joint military drills billed as the largest ever held between the US and Georgia.

Pence also insisted again that Trump is gearing up to approve new punitive measures against Russia that have already pushed battered ties with Moscow still lower.

"President Trump will sign the sanctions bill soon," Pence told a press conference.

The US Senate on Thursday approved a package of tough additional sanctions against Russia over alleged meddling in last year's election and its annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine.

The White House has said Trump will now approve the bill binding his hands on lifting the sanctions, but has not set a timeframe.

After visiting Georgia, Pence headed to NATO's newest member Montenegro on the Adriatic Sea for the last leg of his trip. It was a show of support after its entrance into the alliance sparked bitter opposition from Moscow.

He was greeted at the airport in the capital Podgorica, amid tight security, by Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, and was due to attend a dinner with President Filip Vujanovic and other officials.

On Wednesday, Pence is due to attend the Adriatic Charter summit, which in addition to the US and Montenegro will bring together leaders from Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia and Slovenia.

In a visit to Baltic State Estonia on Monday, Pence insisted that a retaliatory move taken by the Kremlin, to cut the US diplomatic mission in Russia the face of the looming sanctions, would not lessen Washington's commitment to its allies.

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