Vice President Dick Cheney said Saturday that Russia's actions in the conflict with Georgia are an "affront to civilized standards" and "completely unacceptable."

Using some of the strongest language to date by the U.S. administration, Cheney challenged Russia to engage in the world as a "responsible, modern power." He said NATO enlargement would continue as the allies see fit, despite Russia's opposition to the possible inclusion of its former satellite states.

Cheney was speaking at a conference of global business and political leaders in northern Italy. As he walked into the room accompanied by his wife, Cheney was welcomed by a round of applause by the conference guests.

He said Russia's action in its military invasion in Georgia were "flatly contrary to some of our most deeply held beliefs."

"Russia's actions are an affront to civilized standards and are completely unacceptable," the vice president told the conference. "Russia has offered no satisfactory justification for the invasion, nor could it do so."

Cheney was at the conference on Lake Como as part of a European tour. He visited oil-rich Azerbaijan and then Georgia, where Russia has recognized the independence of two breakaway Georgian regions: South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Washington also offered Georgia a US$1 billion aid package to help it recover from the short but damaging war with Russia over the separatist regions.