Red Line: this week we discuss Hillary Clinton's Asian Tour, will the reset "push" Russia towards democracy and Alexander Lukashenko's turnaround

Sergei Strokan: Welcome to the Voice of Russia and its weekend program Red Line. Mira, to me the most surprising thing this week was not the seemingly endless crazy heat wave covering major Russian regions but unexpectedly intense political life in Russia's near and distant abroad. Not the slightest sign of regular summer lull. Quite unexpected - at least to me!

Mira Salganik: May be geopolitics also experience sort of green-house effect, what do you think, Sergei?

Sergei Strokan: Well, if green-house effect is something more than just global warming and rising sea level due to melting of Arctic ice.

Mira Salganik: My, you are an academic, Sergei! I am impressed! But shall we turn to political news of this really hot July?

Sergei Strokan: Beyond the Headlines. This is Red Line first heading to discuss the world mainstream event. This week it consists of a cluster of major events related to South and Central Asia. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton grand Asian tour which kick-started with her two-day visit to Pakistan was followed by a major donor-countries conference in Kabul.

Mira Salganik: President Obama has made a high stake on his much-advertised though seemingly not very successful dual Afghan-Pakistan strategy and this is why State Secretary Clinton is busy travelling from one capital to another. But let me tell you one thing, Sergei. While they in Washington regard the region as a source of constant threat to US security which should be eliminated at any cost we in Russia have our own regional priorities, our own agenda. Geographically we are much closer to the region and this makes us more concerned with our national interests here.

Sergei Strokan: For State Secretary Clinton her Pakistani and Afghan missions both looked as an uphill battle. As for Pakistan the true fact is that Washington-Islamabad marriage of convenience eroded with years and currently finds itself in a mess. Continuous US drone attacks on Pakistani territory fuel anti-American sentiments with more and more ordinary Pakistanis losing their faith in the strategic alliance with US. So do many Afghans. While Americans say that president Karzai is riding the wrong horse the Afghans argue that the horse is carrying the wrong rider. Rough, reckless rider in their view is America.

Mira Salganik: It looks like Hillary Clinton's task in Islamabad was an attempt to use big carrot while putting big stick aside. She seems to realize how difficult it is. "Of course there is a legacy of suspicion that we inherited. It is not going to be eliminated overnight," said Clinton following talks in Islamabad.

Sergei Strokan: I have noticed that Clinton acknowledged that rebuilding trust between the countries would be difficult, comparing the effort to launching a rocket into space. But if launching drone is continued I am afraid the carrot would go waste.

Mira Salganik: And let us look at Afghan carrot now. Kabul Conference endorsed plans to channel at least half of the $13 billion in international aid through Afghan government channels. According to reports, currently only one-fifth of such assistance is funneled through Afghan ministries.

Sergei Strokan: In return, president Karzai promised to fight corruption.

Mira Salganik: It's easier to be said than done.

Independent political analyst and columnist with News International Ehmed Kureshi gives his comments.

Sergei Strokan: Now let us come to our second heading, Between the Lines, to discuss the most intriguing publication of the week. Mira, this time I suggest a story from the Washington Post called "Can reset push Russia toward democracy?" The author is Fred Hiatt.

Mira Salganik: I must confess that even before I read Fred Hiatt's story, I was flabbergasted by title of his piece since I thought that "pushing" and "democracy" was a contradiction in terms. One could certainly discuss advantages of democracy over, say, monarchy - or vice versa - but to push a nation towards democracy is downright undemocratic. At least this is what I feel. When president Obama first proclaimed resetting I thought that what he meant was an effort to have two very different countries to cooperate in the areas of mutual interest.

Sergei Strokan: Well, the two countries do cooperate - much closer than under the last American administration. The author mentions the major examples quoting US administration officials: "The signing of a major arms control treaty; Russia's backing of a UN resolution imposing sanctions on Iran; permission to transport cargo through Russia to the war theater in Afghanistan; and this month, the quietly unwinding on mutually beneficial terms spy scandal". Nobody can deny the facts.

Mira Salganik: The Washington Post story has a plot: there is that young human rights activist from Chechnya who keeps reminding the author of absence of any changes in Russia's undemocratic governance - sometimes she does it verbally, sometimes with "almost imperceptible sighs" which are interpreted by author. He gets her message. The message is alarming - there is no democracy at all the post-soviet vast space, "with Russia leading the anti-democracy movement" (why Russia - not Turkmenistan or Belorussia?), but anyhow the situation is awful! The Washington Post author hastens to mark that it has nothing to do with president Obama and his reset, but in the same breath adds that "it is worth examining the connection between reset and democracy".

Sergei Strokan: Now let me read out the list of versions - it is remarkable: one possibility is that there is no connection at all. According to this theory, Russia will evolve in its own way. If so, the there is not much the USA or anyone else can do about it. A second possibility looks more hopeful to the author. He admits that reset could -over time - move Russia in the positive direction. Namely, if Russia's modernizers, personified by the professional lawyer president Medvedev, can show that Russia benefits from steady cooperation with the West, they will be strengthened internally and encouraged to promote a rule of law that can, in turn, attract foreign investment and trade. The author accurately notes that this has been the theory which was underlying American cooperation with China. Now please listen carefully: "But that nation's successful marriage of growth and authoritarianism raises a third possibility: that Medvedev may have a vision of a modern Russia that relies less on Putin's oil-rich oligarchs and more on high-tech industry and foreign investment.

Mira Salganik: And this is the message of the Washington Post story: beware of reset - it breeds and strengthens dictators!

Boris Makarenko, Head of the Moscow-based Center for political technologies, gives his comments on the issue.

Sergei Strokan: Man in News. This is Red Line concluding heading. This week our man in news is Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. At one time a staunch ally of Moscow and one of the most dedicated proponents of the integration of ex-Soviet republics President Lukashenko this week made a dramatic turnaround lashing out at whom he angrily called "Russian colleges" in the Kremlin.

"They have unleashed a mud-sliding campaign against me. They are rich, they are multi-millionaires. What can we talk about? For them I would always remain a stranger", said Lukashenko while on the working visit to the Belarusian region of Gomel in a clear reference to the scarcity of natural resources in Belarusian subsoil. However, this time he went beyond demonstrating his personal dislike of Russian leadership while not naming President Medvedev or Prime Minister Putin by names. Lukashenko openly blackmailed the Kremlin threatening it can at one point loose Minsk if things stand like now. "Russia is more afraid of losing Belarus than Belarus is afraid of severing ties with Russia. Who would they finally remain with?" asked Lukashenko. Mira, neighbors are prone to quarrel sometimes, don't they? Don't you think this is part of life as well as of politics?

Mira Salganik: Who would Russia finally remain with is a good question. I suppose the reply is - it would remain all alone. Right?

Well, neighbors do quarrel but even petty quarrels about small grievances have a potential of growing into fistfights. You know the saying: don't buy a house, buy a good neigbour. But if a leader of a nation behaves like a child, picking up a grudge against a neighboring nation it is a different cup of tea. Let us not forget that his voice has a long echo as he is closely watched by his nation. We could have easily left unnoticed Lukashenko's recent highly emotional remarks but for one thing. Regardless of who is right and who is wrong those escapades no doubt poison Russian-Belarusian relations. And this is very alarming.

Sergei Strokan: With all that remains of my personal respect for Lukashenko I think you have used the right word, Mira, when you said "child". Lukashenko's recent hobnobbing with Moscow's arch-foe Georgian President Saakashvili aimed at displeasing Moscow - and it does look absurd and childish. More that surprising counterstrike, isn't it? For there is very little in common between Saakashvili eating from the hands of the West and trying to pose as a first democrat of Caucus region and an ex-Soviet collective farm head Lukashenko labeled by the many at the West as the last dictator of Europe.

Mira Salganik: Let us be frank: for quite a long time Lukashenko regarded relations with Moscow as a source of endless cheap loans and gas for so-called friendly prices which kept Belarus economy afloat. Some even started to speak about Belarusian economic miracle. Yet I would like to cite here a Belarusian journalist Svetlana Kalinkina of Narodnaya Volya newspaper who writes: "On the other hand, I would like to see those romantics of the Kremlin who paid good money for sugary speeches presenting them as a well-planned long-term doctrine of foreign relations". So, let us admit it: Lukashenko's economic miracle was paid for from the Russian budget.

Sergei Strokan: But is he the only one to take the blame? Did not somebody sign the check? Ok, the Kremlin romantics finally announced that friendship is friendship but there would be no more free lunches. Moscow said enough is enough, and this is what really infuriated Lukashenko. Not surprising at all - Lukashenko behaves just like a frustrated leader of a state subsisting on foreign donations who rebels against the donor when the donor says he is tired of being milked. It is a classical case.

Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of "Russia in global politics" magazine, comments on the issue.

Mira Salganik: President Lukashenko simply lost the sense of reality. I understand the so-called last dictator of Europe wants to turn into the first bridegroom of Europe playing on whatever contradictions between Moscow and Brussels could emerge. This is typical old third world mentality approach, don't you find, Sergei? And just like in the third world they never miss a chance of positioning themselves as downgraded and unprivileged by rich and privileged, but more proud and progressive that the rest of humanity.

Sergei Strokan: Both "yes" and "no". Yes in a sense that all this Lukashenko's endless war of words with Moscow really looks like a clumsy attempt to trade loyalty for better price. But let us not forget that the cold war is over. Russia would never make her relations with the West hostage of president Lukashenko. At the same time Moscow wants these relations to be a fair play leaving no way for someone's hidden agendas.


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