Vice President Dick Cheney has arrived in Azerbaijan. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Azerbaijan on Wednesday, part of a tour of three ex-Soviet republics wary of Russia's intentions following last month's war between Russia and neighboring Georgia.
State-run TV showed footage of Cheney arriving at a Baku airport and being greeting by government officials.
No schedule for Cheney's visit was made public, though he was expected to meet with 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 U.S. vice president was later to head to neighboring Georgia, where Washington is trying bolster support for President Mikhail Saakashvili's U.S.-allied government, battered by last month's short war with Russia.
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.
Aliev's government is often criticized by rights groups for heavy-handed treatment of independent media and opposition groups and international observers have said past elections were flawed.
Cheney's visit comes as the U.S. administration plans to roll out a US$1 billion economic aid package for Georgia to help it rebuild. The White House and U.S. State Department intend to jointly announce the aid package later Wednesday.