Republican vice presidential pick Sarah Palin on Thursday refused to rule out war with Russia should Georgia eventually join NATO and then be invaded by Moscow's troops.
John McCain's running mate said in a high-stakes debut national television interview that Georgia and Ukraine should both be admitted into the western alliance.
"We have to keep our eyes on Russia, under the leadership there," the Alaska governor said in the interview with ABC News, but stressed she hoped the United States could avoid a new Cold War.
When asked if the United States would have to go to war with Russia should Georgia join NATO and Russia invade the country, she said, "Perhaps so."
"I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you're going to be expected to be called upon and help.
"For Russia to have exerted such pressure in terms of invading a smaller Democratic country, unprovoked, is unacceptable," Palin said, referring to Moscow's previous showdown with Georgia last month.
Palin was also asked to explain the McCain campaign's contention that she was well aware of the implications of US-Moscow relations because of her state's proximity to Russia.
"They're our next-door neighbors, and you can see Russia from land here," Palin said.
Earlier Thursday, Russia condemned the "unfriendly" stance of Ukraine over the war in Georgia, fueling tensions in what is feared could be the region's next flashpoint.
But Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sought Thursday to reassure the West that Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states had nothing to fear.
"We do not have any desire or basis for infringing the sovereignty of former Soviet republics," the Russian leader said in the southern resort of Sochi.