VP Pence says Russia's stance must change before ties improve

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday that relations with Russia would not improve until Moscow changed its stance on Ukraine and withdrew support for "regimes like Iran and Syria and North Korea".

The U.S. Congress voted last week for new sanctions on Russia and, at a news conference in Georgia's capital Tbilisi, Pence said the "lifting of sanctions will require Russia to reverse the actions that caused sanctions to be imposed in the first place".

"Russia's destabilizing activities in Ukraine, their support for rogue regimes like Iran and Syria and North Korea ... their posture has to change," he said at a joint news conference with Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili.

Click through images of Mike Pence hanging out with Koalas in Australia:

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Mike Pence hung out with some Koalas in Australia
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Mike Pence hung out with some Koalas in Australia
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence looks at a koala with his daughters Charlotte and Audrey and a keeper during a visit to Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence looks at a koala being held by a keeper with his wife Karen and daughters Charlotte and Audrey during a visit to Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence watches as his wife Karen attempts to touch a koala during a visit to Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence looks at a koala being held by a keeper with his wife Karen and daughters Charlotte and Audrey during a visit to Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed
Karen Pence, the wife of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, looks at a koala during a visit to Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed
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Pence said U.S. President Donald Trump would sign the new sanctions on Russia into law this week and said that Trump and Congress were "speaking with a unified voice".

Keeping to previous U.S. administrations' line, Pence also condemned Russia's presence in Georgia.

Moscow, whose annexation of Crimea in 2014 prompted U.S. and EU sanctions, still has troops stationed in Georgia after a 2008 war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia, backing Georgia's Abkhazia, a region also controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Pence also said the U.S. was still behind Georgia's application to become a member of NATO.

"We'll continue to work closely with this prime minister and the government of Georgia broadly to advance the policies that will facilitate becoming a NATO member," he said.

NATO promised Georgia membership in 2008, and three ex-Soviet Baltic nations - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - are already members. Pence has reassured them during this tour that Washington firmly backs NATO's doctrine of collective defense.

In the Estonian capital of Tallinn on Monday, he assured them of U.S. support if they faced aggression from Russia.

Asked about Pence's visit, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said nations had the right to choose their partners.

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Mike and Karen Pence
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Mike and Karen Pence

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, left, and his wife, Karen Pence acknowledge the audience before he speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition's annual meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada February 24, 2017.

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, his wife Karen and daughter Charlotte, visit the former German Nazi concentration camp in Dachau near Munich, Germany February 19, 2017.

(REUTERS/Michael Dalder)

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen wave after he spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen arrive in Munich, Germany, February 17, 2017.

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U.S. President Donald Trump with his wife Melania and Vice President Mike Pence with his wife Karen dance at a Liberty Ball in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017.

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Mike Pence kisses his wife Karen after taking the oath of office for U.S. Vice President during inauguration ceremonies swearing in Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States on the West front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017.

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U.S. President Donald Trump with his wife Melania and Vice President Mike Pence with his wife Karen cut a cake at the Armed Services Ball in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence with his wife Karen waves at a Liberty Ball in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

Mike Pence is sworn in as U.S. Vice President as his wife Karen holds a bible during inauguration ceremonies swearing in Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States on the West front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Vice President Mike Pence is sworn in as his wife Karen Pence watches during inauguration ceremonies swearing in Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States on the West front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden says goodbye to Karen Pence after a luncheon and meeting with Vice President-elect Mike Pence at the Naval Observatory in Washington, U.S., November 16, 2016.

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Indiana Governor Mike Pence, the Republican vice presidential nominee, and his wife Karen arrive to a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. October 10, 2016.

(REUTERS/Jason Miczek)

Indiana Governor Mike Pence holds hands with wife Karen Pence after being named Donald Trump's Vice Presidential candidate as the walk out of Trump Tower in New York, U.S., July 15, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Indiana governor Mike Pence and wife Karen Pence attends the 2014 IPL 500 Festival Parade during the 2014 Indy 500 Festival at on May 24, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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Republican Vice presidential nominee Mike Pence and wife Karen listen as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump addresses the final rally of his 2016 presidential campaign at Devos Place in Grand Rapids, Michigan on November 7, 2016.

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Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney introduces U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence at the Republican Jewish Coalition's annual leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas on February 24, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Mike Pence's speech to the group of Republican Jewish leaders and donors follows his trip last week to Germany where he visited the former Dachau concentration camp and a surprise stop on Wednesday at a Jewish cemetery in Missouri that had been vandalized.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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"The only problem for us, is when this involves the expanding of various alliances and their infrastructure toward our borders. This is a cause of concern for us," Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

During his visit, Pence attended Georgian-American military exercises, which began in Georgia on Sunday. About 2,800 soldiers from the United States, Britain, Germany, Turkey, Ukraine, Slovenia, Armenia and Georgia are taking part in the maneuvers, which will last for two weeks.

On Wednesday, Pence visits Montenegro, which joined NATO in June. The tiny Balkan nation won praise from Washington for joining despite pressure against the move from Russia.

(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow; Editing by Maayan Lubell)

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