MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Today, President Bush announced a $1 billion economic aid package for Georgia. Its intended to help the country rebuild after last months Russian invasion. Vice President Dick Cheney arrives in Georgias capital, Tbilisi, tomorrow. Hes visiting Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Georgia to show support for the three former Soviet Republics. Each shares a border with Russia.
As NPRs Mike Shuster reports from Tbilisi, todays aid package will be welcomed, although, many Georgians are looking for more.
MIKE SHUSTER: Vice President Cheney will be the highest ranking American official to visit Georgia since the shock of the Russian invasion. For many here like Alexander Rondeli, president for the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, Cheneys visit signifies not only American support for Georgias independence, but protection from further Russian attack.
Mr. ALEXANDER RONDELI (President, Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies): Its a sign of good will of American nation, and its a sign of American support to a small country bordering gangster Russia.
SHUSTER: Senior American officials have already visited Georgia to pledge humanitarian aid and financial backing for reconstruction, but Georgias President Mikhail Saakashvili and many others here want more. They want a fast track to membership in the NATO alliance, and short of that, says Alexander Rondeli, they want the U.S. to pledge protection.
Mr. RONDELI: We are sure that United States will try to protect us through collective security system or maybe it will be bilateral. Who knows?
SHUSTER: Earlier this year at a NATO summit in Romania, President Bush urged NATO membership for Georgia, but there was opposition to that among European allies, in particular, France and Germany.
Then Russian President Vladimir Putin warned NATO that Moscow would look on NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, also a candidate, as a military threat.
During the short war in August, Russian tanks and armor smashed Georgias small army and, for the moment, Georgia is utterly defenseless. Putin and the current Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, claim that the U.S. is secretly smuggling arms to Georgia through ships bringing humanitarian aid. The U.S. has denied this, but there are those here who hope that its true.
David Smith is an American living in Tbilisi. Hes the director of the Georgian Security Analysis Center and an occasional adviser to the Georgian government.
Mr. DAVID SMITH (Director, Georgian Security Analysis Center): I hope the vice president is bringing a package here that will help rebuild Georgia, including its military, supply it with the right kind of weapons, including anti-aircraft weapons, and start pushing for a membership action plan in NATO.
(Soundbite of chanting)
SHUSTER: Although Georgia was unable to stand up to the Russian military, political and patriotic spirits have only been strengthened. On Monday, hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets of Tbilisi and other towns and villages. This group of youngsters were chanting, Georgia yes, Russia no.
Unidentified Man: This is a demonstration that Georgian people want freedom. Georgian people dont want Russia, and we want freedom.
(Soundbite of car horn)
Unidentified Woman: This is our Georgia. Freedom, Georgia, freedom.
SHUSTER: Many in the crowd believe that the U.S. will come to the countrys aid, but its far from clear how realistic that expectation is, what the U.S. is willing to risk, if anything, to challenge Russias action in Georgia. Alexander Rondeli concedes this lack of realism in Georgia today.
Mr. RONDELI: Well, maybe its not very realistic, but we Georgians are not very realistic. If we were very realistic, we would not fight Russians and we would pull back and just giving them our country. When youre struggling for survival, sometimes you are not very realistic.
SHUSTER: David Smith argues that the Russian military move against Georgia was the first battle in a potentially much wider conflict.
Mr. SMITH: This is a war against the post-1991 world order, and the Russians perceive that as an order dominated by the United States, by NATO and by the European Union. This is a war on that order, and we had better wake up and understand what it is.
SHUSTER: That is a view many in Georgia hold, but there is little accord in Europe and the U.S. about whether its true, and even less agreement what to do about it, if it is.
Mike Shuster, NPR News, Tbilisi.