Many Leaders in the Former Soviet Union Like Trump Because He's One of Them


Image: Donald Trump. Stock Photo.

A lot of leaders in the West are appalled that Donald Trump, whom they see as a demagogue, bully and know-nothing, has a shot at becoming president of the United States.

Many countries in the former Soviet Union are pulling for the presumptive Republican candidate, however.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised him as a "brilliant and talented person."

Putin likes him partly because Trump has said that he would get along with the Russian president and "with a lot of the world leaders that this country is not getting along with."

"He says he wants to move on to a new, more substantial relationship, a deeper relationship with Russia," Putin enthused. "How can we not welcome that?"

I'm convinced that other dictators in the former Soviet Union, many of whom chafe over the American government's attacks on their corruption, nepotism and human-rights violations, feel the same way as Putin, though they aren't expressing it publicly, as he does.

From my point of view, it's not just Trump's willingness to work with Putin and other dictators in the former Soviet Union that has led to a lot of support for him in the region.

It's also that they identify with him. Many of these leaders are racists, homophobes, bullies and thugs -- like Trump.

They feel Trump is a member of their club, a kindred spirit, someone they can understand. And someone who understands them and will turn a blind eye to their mischief.

Much of the world has been offended by Trump's comments that Mexican immigrants to the United States are rapists and that he would ban all Muslim immigrants because of the possibility that some could be terrorists. (He recently backed off the Muslims comment in an attempt to portray himself as more cuddly to American voters.)

Putin understands Trump's penchant for demonizing those who are not like him.

He was the one who demanded that the Russian parliament pass anti-gay legislation in 2013 that drew howls internationally and prompted President Barack Obama to boycott the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

Other countries in the former Soviet Union have drafted the same legislation, indicating that their leaders feel the same way Putin does about those who don't have a "traditional sexual orientation."

Some leaders in the former Soviet Union love to bully others, so Trump's penchant for bullying is just fine with them.

Because he has yet to become a political leader, Trump hasn't used a government office to intimidate others.

But his bent toward bullying is clearly there -- and leaders in the former Soviet Union are well aware of it.

Take, for example, Trump's comments that "torture works," so he would allow it if he were president, and that he would like to punch protesters "in the face."

I'm sure the torture comments sit well with dictators like Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, which Human Rights Watch has condemned for its widespread use of torture and killing.

Meanwhile, Trump's comment about punching others in the face has to warm the cockles of Putin, who has invaded weaker neighbors Ukraine and Georgia and uses the threat of cutting off Russia's oil and gas to intimidate other neighbors into doing his bidding.

Although Putin uses his military to punch neighbors in the face figuratively, other leaders in the former Soviet Union literally punch others in the face, or have others do it for them.

The thousands of confidential diplomatic cables that Wikileaks has made public include several American diplomats' accounts of Armenian leaders beating up others over personal grudges -- or having goons in their entourages do the beating.

In 2001, for example, a cable noted that President Robert Kocharian's bodyguard Aghamal Harutiunyan beat a nightclub patron to death.

The patron's offense? Greeting the president with "Hello, Rob" in a restroom.

Apparently Kocharian considered Poghos Poghosian's familiarity an insult, and his bodyguard took over from there.

Harutiunyan's punishment for the murder was probation, which meant he essentially got off Scot-free.

Although human-rights groups called for Kocharian to be indicted in the murder as well, there was no way Armenian prosecutors would have done that.

Another American cable dealt with Armenian Governor Suren Khachatryan viciously beating a teenager who had stopped one of the governor's sons from sexually harassing a girl. Nothing happened to the governor, of course.

Nor did anything happen to a nephew of current Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who started a nightclub fight in the capital of Yerevan that led to a patron losing an eye.

Trump's remark about punching a protester in the face indicates that he would have no problem with the thuggery that some Armenian leaders have engaged in.

Given that many leaders in the former Soviet Union are racists, homophobes, bullies and thugs, it's no wonder they like Trump. As president of the United States, he would likely receive a hero's welcome in their capitals.

Armine Sahakyan is a human rights activist based in Armenia. A columnist with the Kyiv Post and a blogger with The Huffington Post, she writes on human rights and democracy in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Follow her on Twitter at: