By Edward Luce and Andrew Ward in Washington
Published: August 11 2008 19:33 | Last updated: August 11 2008 23:55
It took four days and a growing chorus of criticism from conservatives before George W. Bush on Monday matched John McCain’s tough stance on Russia. Having on Monday morning again been upstaged by the Republican presidential candidate, who had called for the US administration to come together with its allies in “universal condemnation of Russian aggression” in Georgia, Mr Bush finally followed suit.
In a late afternoon statement following his return from the Olympics in Beijing, Mr Bush accused Russia of a “dramatic and brutal escalation” in Georgia with the aim of overthrowing its “duly-elected government”.
- Aug-10Oil prices fall while war in Georgia continues - Aug-11The statement, which was noticeably tougher than the administration’s previous comments on the crisis, followed a phone call on Sunday from Dick Cheney, the vice-president, to Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian president, in which he said that “Russian aggression must not go unanswered”.
But it was Mr McCain who set the initial tone with a strong statement last Friday several hours before official word from the administration – and then again on Monday morning with a shopping list of tough policy responses for Mr Bush. These included shoring up support for Ukraine, which hosts Russia’s Crimean fleet, and steps to protect the Caspian pipeline that runs from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia – all allies of the US.
“Russia’s aggression against Georgia is both a matter of urgent moral and strategic importance to the United States,” said Mr McCain. “The implications go beyond their threat to a democratic Georgia. Russia is using violence against Georgia, in part, to intimidate other neighbours such as Ukraine, for choosing to associate with the West.”
By Monday Mr Bush’s initial response – which he made at the Beijing Olympics on Saturday, where he expressed “grave concern” about Moscow’s “disproportionate response” to Georgia’s troop movement – had been replaced by a more stark assessment echoing Mr McCain’s broader alarm about Russia’s intentions.
It followed conservative criticism of the administration’s allegedly tepid response to the crisis. Earlier John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations now at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said: “What is interesting about the US response is that you have the McCain campaign in one corner immediately understanding the significance of Russia’s aggression and in the opposite you have the Bush administration standing with the Obama campaign taking a much more diluted stance.”