US Vice-President Dick Cheney lent US support yesterday to three Balkan nations seeking to join NATO and the European Union as he wrapped up a tour of eastern European states dominated by his criticism of Russia.
Speaking at a summit of the Adriatic Charter group made up of Croatia, Albania and Macedonia, Cheney told leaders their countries' entry would help revitalize the democratic values of the two Western clubs.
He praised them for reforms to meet NATO and EU eligibility and said their involvement in US-led military operations in Iraq or Afghanistan was also "a very important step."
"You who aspire to those organizations help rejuvenate it and help us re-dedicate ourselves to the basic and fundamental values of freedom and democracy," he said at the opening of the meeting in the picturesque Croatian port of Dubrovnik.
Cheney's praise for the Adriatic leaders' efforts stood in marked contrast to the stinging rebuke of Russia he delivered to Baltic and Black Sea heads of state in Vilnius on Thursday on the first stop of his five-day trip.
Cheney made diplomatic waves at a time of increasingly chilly US-Russian relations when he accused President Vladimir Putin of backsliding on democracy and using Moscow's vast energy resources to "blackmail" its neighbours.
A Kremlin spokesman brushed off Cheney's remarks as "incomprehensible," but lingering tensions between the two former Cold War rivals could bode ill for a G8 summit in St. Petersburg in July.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov questioned how well informed Cheney was, suggesting over the weekend that "apparently he has been let down by his advisers and aides."
Further integration of Moscow's neighbours into Western alliances could compound its anger. Many Russians worry the US push for global democracy is really aimed at achieving dominance in what they considered their sphere of influence.