Tensions between Russia and the United States over Georgia intensified Saturday with Vice President Dick Cheney casting Moscow as a brutal regime that aims to recapture its Soviet-era dominance.
In the U.S. administration's most hawkish remarks since Russia's five-day war with Georgia last month, Cheney reminded the West of its "responsibilities" and criticized Russia for its "chain of aggressive moves."
Cheney's tough talk came hours after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned that Moscow was a "force to be reckoned with," as tensions between Russia and the West soared to heights unseen since the Cold War.
Medvedev accused the United States of rearming Georgia under the guise of humanitarian aid, after Friday's arrival of the U.S. Navy's Mediterranean flagship at a key Georgian port close to where Russian troops are patrolling.
"I wonder how they would like it if we sent humanitarian assistance using our navy to countries of the Caribbean that have suffered from the recent hurricanes," Medvedev said.
Moscow has questioned why Washington chose one of its most sophisticated warships, the USS Mount Whitney, to transport aid to Poti. The vessel is the floating command post for the U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet, based in Italy.
Since bombing the Black Sea port last month during the conflict with Georgia, Russia has stationed troops at checkpoints near the town and conducted patrols in the town.
The U.S. State Department rejects Russian criticism, saying the Mount Whitney was carrying only humanitarian assistance including blankets, juice, diapers and hygiene products.
At a meeting of top officials at the Kremlin, Medvedev was more assertive than ever. "Russia is a state that has to be reckoned with from now on," he said.
"We have lived a moment of truth.... The world changed after August 8 this year," he said, referring to the date Russian troops entered Georgia at the start of its conflict with Georgia over the separatist province of South Ossetia.
Cheney, meanwhile, rallied NATO countries to unite in the face of the Russian threat and accused Moscow of defying its responsibilities under a French-brokered ceasefire agreement.
"Though aware of these responsibilities, Russia has yet to meet them. Indeed, it has taken the opposite course, by recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states," Cheney said.
The vice president was in Italy fresh from a tour of former Soviet republics and U.S. allies in the region including Georgia, where he promised $1 billion in aid.
The standoff between Russia and the West over the Georgia crisis has been sharpened by the arrival of several foreign military vessels in the Black Sea -- a deployment that Russia sees as intimidation.
Medvedev on Saturday described the aid deliveries to Georgia as "political pressure" being exerted on Russia by the West.
RIA Novosti news agency quoted an unnamed Russian intelligence officer saying there now were a total of seven military ships belonging to Germany, Poland, Spain and United States in the Black Sea.
Western countries have called on Russia to withdraw its remaining troops from Georgia immediately and have condemned Moscow's decision to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another rebel province of Georgia.
EU foreign ministers meeting in the southern French city of Avignon on Saturday called for an international inquiry into the conflict and the rapid deployment of an EU observer mission to Georgia.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the main player in Europe's diplomatic efforts, travels to Moscow and Tbilisi on Monday to push for the full implementation of the peace plan signed by Moscow and Tbilisi last month.
He will be accompanied by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner revealed that "a translation problem" had apparently contributed to differences in interpreting the Sarkozy-brokered peace plan.
Kouchner was asked in Avignon what was behind the interpretation difficulties which concern the key issue of what Russia calls "buffer zones" around South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
"The translation, as always," Koucher replied, referring to the document that was signed in French, then translated into English and Russian.
The main glitch involved a passage in the Russian version that spoke of security "for South Ossetia and Abkhazia" -- whereas the English version spoke of security "in" the two areas.
The wording matters because it refers to "buffer zones" that Russia has created in undisputed Georgian territory -- zones that Moscow says it must hold in order to keep Georgian forces from threatening the breakaway provinces.© Wire reports