Dictators Love Trump, and He Loves Them

If you’re a murderous dictator, this is a joyous time to be alive.

No one will make much of a fuss if your opposition leader is jailed, if an annoying journalist goes missing or if, as happened in Congo, a judge who displeases the dictatorial president suffers a home invasion in which goons rape his wife and daughter.

.. The U.S. has abandoned a bipartisan consensus on human rights that goes back decades.

.. I’m back from Myanmar, where leaders are finding that this is also the optimal time to commit genocide.

The army conducted a scorched-earth campaign against the Rohingya ethnic minority, with soldiers throwing babies onto bonfires as they raped the mothers.

.. In the past, human rights was at least one thread of our foreign policy.

.. Trump defended Vladimir Putin for killing critics (“What? You think our country’s so innocent?”), and praised Egypt’s brutal president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, for “a fantastic job.” Trump hailed the Philippines’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, whose dirty war on drugs has claimed 12,000 lives, for an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”

.. when Trump visited Manila, he laughed as Duterte called reporters “spies” — in a country where aggressive journalism has landed people in the morgue.

.. A record number of journalists are in prison worldwide

.. Trump has met with the leaders of each of the three top jailers of journalists — China, Russia and Turkey — and as far as we know, has never raised the issue of press freedom with them.

.. “What’s completely gone is the bipartisan consensus that was a cornerstone of our foreign policy, that if you imprison journalists and restrict the media, there will be consequences,”

.. In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen approvingly cited Trump’s attacks on fake news as a precedent for closing down radio stations and the much admired newspaper Cambodia Daily. After the crackdown, in November, Trump posed for a photograph with Hun Sen, flashing a thumbs-up — and Hun Sen praised the American president for his lack of interest in human rights.

.. “Your policy is being changed,” Hun Sen declared gratefully, and he lauded Trump for being “most respectful.”

.. Trump told the king of repressive Bahrain, “there won’t be strain with this administration.”

.. the government responded a few days later by killing five protesters

..  sentencing Rajab himself to five years in prison for his tweets.

.. Trump’s soft spot for authoritarianism goes way back. He has spoken sympathetically of the Chinese government’s massacres of pro-democracy protesters in 1989, and of Saddam Hussein’s approach to counterterrorism.

.. Periodically, Trump does raise human rights issues, but only to bludgeon enemies like North Korea or Venezuela. This is so ham-handed and hypocritical that it simply diminishes American standing further.

.. approval of the United States has collapsed to a record low of 30 percent. Indeed, more people now approve of China than of the United States. Russia is just behind us.

.. “Trump has been a disaster for U.S. soft power,”

.. “He’s so hated around the world that he’s radioactive. So on those rare occasions when he does something about human rights, it only tarnishes the cause.”

..  In Myanmar, a young Rohingya man pleaded with me: “Please don’t let us be treated as animals.

Hitting Putin Where It Hurts

But the prime minister should have gone in harder. If she really wanted to teach Russia a lesson, she should have announced measures allowing her government to scrutinize the billions of dollars invested in Britain by Russian oligarchs and their associates, some of whom have criminal or intelligence backgrounds. This kind of transparency would hit President Vladimir Putin and his allies where it hurts most: their bank accounts.

To this day, anybody from Mexican cartels to Saudi arms dealers to Russian oligarchs (and even American real estate magnates) can invest money in Britain through anonymous companies registered in Crown Overseas Territories like the British Virgin Islands. In London’s central borough of Westminster alone, some 10,000 apartments and houses are owned by companies whose proprietors are entirely unknown to the government.

.. In 2016, Mrs. May’s predecessor, David Cameron, was preparing legislationto force anonymous companies to reveal their real owners. Then he lost the referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union.

.. Mrs. May probably has her reasons for not going forward with the law. She is the country’s weakest prime minister to assume office since World War II. Brexit has not only polarized public opinion but also created bitter divisions in her cabinet, and several ministers are open about their desire to take her place.

Because of this, she has had to handle the relationship with Russia after the murder attempt with great care. If she gets it wrong, her already enfeebled administration could collapse.

.. Mr. Putin may have realized how weak Mrs. May is, which is why he would decide to act now to take revenge on a man he sees as a traitor and to cause Britain new headaches.
Russia’s motivation is understandable. Its economy faces serious structural problems, including a dangerous overreliance on oil and gas. At the same time, business leaders are worried about the country’s long-term demographic decline. Mr. Putin seeks to bolster his domestic popularity by looking powerful as he sows discord with the West.
.. The government is reaping the dubious rewards of having opened the City of London since the late 1990s to foreign capital with no questions asked about its origin.
 The initial aim of this permissive approach was to persuade investors that London — rather than New York — was best suited to be the world’s financial capital. Among the many to take advantage of the light-touch regulations were oligarchs, spies and gangsters.
.. Russian oligarchs have made an indelible mark on London. Some own newspapers, others our most successful soccer clubs, while many more own huge chunks of high-end property in the most fashionable parts of the capital.
.. And some of those characters are close collaborators and friends of President Putin.
.. If Mrs. May is convinced that Russia is behind this attack, then she needs to devise a way of getting to President Putin’s friends and collaborators. And that means great transparency. She should reintroduce the stalled proposal to force anonymous companies to reveal the sources of their cash.

Babushkas for Putin

Russian women, who outlive men by more than a decade on average,
are among the president’s biggest fans, especially older women.

“Putin is respected by everyone, so men should pay attention to how and what he does,” Anna Veresova, 75, a retired teacher, told me. “In theory, he is the perfect man to have around.”

 61 percent of his votescame from women and just 39 percent from men. The gender gap has persisted:

.. For the election on Sunday, 69.2 percent of women said they planned to vote for Putin, while only 57.5 percent of men did

.. Most said they were doing so in part because he was a good man — strong, healthy and active.

.. Ms. Veresova and the other women I photographed live in a world of very few men. Russian women outlive Russian men by over a decade

.. women are expected to live until 76, and men to just 65.

.. By the time women reach retirement age, their husbands have often died, and their days consist of taking care of grandchildren, spending time with other older women and watching television.

.. On the one hand, no one I spoke with seemed to feel that they were worse off, exactly: Even before their husbands died, the women were already doing all the household chores. Most saw retirement as a chance to relax, to try things they’d always wanted to do. I met women who became professional divers, started horseback riding, were learning to use smartphones and were singing in choirs. One started a business.

.. And yet their emotional response to Mr. Putin — the only man their age who is a presence in their lives — seems to speak to both the holes and the scars that Russian men, in their absence, have left. Mr. Putin is not lazy, these women say. He doesn’t drink. He’s calm, sober, even charming.

.. He looked into the camera, praised Russia’s women who “take care of our homes and children every day.” He recited poetry. The babushkas alone in their homes watched.

Why Foreigners Love Vladimir Putin’s Bond Market

Russian elections highlight the strange economic attraction investors have shown for the country’s financial markets

Nonresidents now hold one-third of domestic government bonds, compared with barely any six years ago.

.. And Russian bonds still look attractive, with a 10-year yield of just under 7%, while inflation has fallen well below the central bank’s 4% target. Conservative economic policy was part of the reason for Standard & Poor’s to upgrade Russia to investment-grade status in February.

But Russia needs change too. And here, continuity in leadership is part of the problem. The economy has emerged from recession and grew 1.5% in 2017, but much faster growth may be tricky: The central bank itself says structural reform is needed to boost growth beyond 1.5% to 2%. Russia’s population is shrinking and aging. Productivity is poor and state involvement in the economy is high.