U.S. Vice President Mike Pence conveyed a message of support from U.S. President Donald Trump to Georgian leaders at an official dinner in Tbilisi late on July 31.
The United States stands with Georgia, Pence said, as he toasted the Caucasus nation for fighting for freedom over the centuries, just as America has.
Pence said America hopes that Georgia prospers and becomes a strong country.
Pence was greeted by thousands of people when he arrived in Tbilisi, where he will meet on August 1 with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, President Giorgi Margvelashvili, Patriarch Ilia II, and representatives of the Georgian opposition.
Pence is also planning to attend joint NATO military exercises being conducted in Georgia. About 800 Georgian and 1,600 U.S. troops are taking part in the Noble Partner 2017 drills there.
Pence was greeted at the Tbilisi airport by Kvirikashvili, who said that the visit is "an important milestone in the bilateral relationship as we work to further strengthen security, economic, and trade cooperation between our two countries."
"Vice President Pence's visit sends a strong message about the enduring strength of the relationship between Georgia and the United States," Kvirikashvili said in comments released by the Georgian government.
Pence arrived in the Georgian capital from Estonia, where earlier in the day he reaffirmed Washington's solidarity with the Baltic nations and accused neighboring Russia of seeking to "redraw international borders" and "undermine democracies."
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are members of NATO and were under Moscow's rule during the Soviet era.
The three countries have expressed concerns about Russia's intentions, as have Georgia and the third ally on Pence's itinerary: new NATO member Montenegro.
"No threat looms larger in the Baltic states than the specter of aggression from your unpredictable neighbor to the east," Pence said. "At this very moment, Russia continues to seek to redraw international borders by force, undermine the democracies of sovereign nations, and divide the free nations of Europe against one another."
Article 5 Support
Pence said the U.S. administration “stands firmly” behind Article 5 of the NATO treaty -- the provision stating that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all members of the alliance.
In Georgia, officials said Pence will highlight U.S. support for the Caucasus nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity before continuing on to Montenegro.
Georgia has seen Russian encroachment on its territory and has expressed hopes of joining the Western military alliance.
The Kremlin recognized Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries after fighting a five-day war against Tbilisi in 2008. Russia maintains thousands of troops in the two regions.
Margvelashvili said on July 27 that Pence's visit will demonstrate that the United States continues to support Georgia in building a stronger military force.
He highlighted the joint military exercises that will include troops from the United States, Britain, Germany, Turkey, Ukraine, Slovenia, and Armenia.
"The vice president's presence here is definitely showing that this is not only about military exercises, but it is also showing unification with our values, with our foreign policy targets, and showing a clear message that we are together," Margvelashvili said.
On the last stop, Pence will welcome NATO's newest member with his stop in Montenegro, whose accession to the alliance in June was adamantly opposed by Russia.
On August 2, he will attend the Adriatic Charter Summit in Montenegro's capital, Podgorica, U.S. officials said.
Pence was expected to highlight the U.S. commitment to the Western Balkans and stress the need for good governance, political reforms, and rule of law in the region.
The leaders of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia are also scheduled to attend the summit.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, and Interfax