updated 10/22/2008 6:49:48 PM ET 2008-10-22T22:49:48

The European Union, the U.S. and other international donors pledged more than $4.5 billion for rebuilding parts of Georgia that were damaged in its war with Russia, officials said Wednesday.

The $3.7 billion for public expenditure and $850 million for the private sector "exceeded expectations," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said following a donor conference in Brussels.

Russia drew criticism for invading Georgia in August in an effort to back up separatist movements in South Ossetia and Abkhazia while repelling a Georgian offensive in South Ossetia.

Russian aircraft and armored units bombed and shelled Georgian military installations, airfields and naval vessels. During the fighting, wildfires raged, turning forests and fruit orchards to cinders. Railroad tracks, bridges and roads were also hit, as were apartment blocks in the city of Gori.

According to early estimates, the total cost of war damage was $1 billion — and that came before the current financial crisis and threat of a global recession.

"The implementation is now going to be key," said World Bank Vice President Shigeo Katsu.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said it was a "moral imperative to help a neighbor in need."

"We must respond to this need and help Georgia to get back on track in its transition to democracy and with its economic reforms," Barroso told the donor conference attended by representatives of some 67 countries and organizations. Russia was not invited.

Georgia — which aspires to join the NATO alliance and the European Union — has been caught between neighboring Russia and the West. Moscow insists the tiny Caucasus country is part of its sphere of influence, while the EU and U.S. seek to bolster their ties in the region and secure new energy sources and supply routes to decrease their dependence on Russian oil and gas.

Barroso said the aid was crucial for supporting Georgia's economic recovery and helping refugees rebuild their lives after fleeing the fighting with Russia over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The United States has said it would give $1 billion. Japan pledged $200 million, while Germany pledged $91 million, of which $46 million had been announced earlier.

Barroso said the EU executive would give $659.2 million to help economic recovery and refugee resettlement.

In addition, the EU's European Investment Bank has offered $264 million in loans to help Georgia rebuild infrastructure damaged or destroyed in the three-week war, including roads, bridges, energy plants, transmission lines and the Tbilisi airport runway.

Georgian groups opposing President Mikhail Saakashvili appealed to donors in Brussels to ensure the aid was not used to pay for rebuilding Georgia's armed forces or to prop up Saakashvili's government.

Alexander Kvitashvili, Georgia's social affairs and health minister, assured the donors that the aid would be used only to help provide housing, health care and other basics to the some 130,000 displaced people.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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