BAKU, AZERBAIJAN // The US vice president, Dick Cheney, has arrived in Azerbaijan as part of a tour of three ex-Soviet republics, following last month's war between Russia and neighbouring Georgia. State-run TV showed footage of Mr Cheney arriving at a Baku airport and being greeted by government officials. No schedule for Mr Cheney's visit was made public, though he was expected to meet with the Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliev, and others in this Caspian Sea nation - home to some of the largest oil and gas reserves in the former Soviet Union.
The US vice president was later to head to neighbouring Georgia, where Washington is trying bolster support for the country's US allied government, battered by last month's short war with Russia. Mr Cheney also will pay a visit to Ukraine for talks with leaders there. The trip comes amid increasingly tense relations between Washington and Moscow. Following the war in Georgia, Russia has boldly asserted its right to exert clout over what it says is its historic sphere of influence - including many former Soviet republics.
Both Georgia and Ukraine have sought to pull themselves out from under Russia's shadow, pushing for membership in Western structures like the European Union and Nato - much to Moscow's consternation. Washington has also courted Azerbaijan, trying to ensure its oil wealth is exported to the West bypassing Russia. The Azerbaijani government is often criticised by rights groups for heavy-handed treatment of independent media and opposition groups. International observers have said past elections were flawed. Mr Cheney's visit comes as the US administration plans to roll out a US$1bn (Dh3.68bn) economic aid package for Georgia to help it rebuild.
The White House and US State Department intend to jointly announce the aid package later today. * AP