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When does engagement with a difficult regime become submission? On Thursday Boris Johnson, the UK foreign secretary, warned against Russophobia. “Russia is a great country,” he said. But Philip Stephens uses his column this week to argue for a tough line against the Kremlin.

Sadly, as Philip observes, Vladimir Putin has apologists in high places, and on the far right and far left, seduced by his authoritarianism. But those who call for “engagement“ without a strong response from the west are misremembering the cold war, he argues, when military competition bulwarked co-operation in arms control. Should we make a deal with Putin, or deal with him?

The Skripal poisoning merits a robust response not just from the UK but from her allies too, says Philip, precisely because it is no surprise and an example of contempt for the rule of law, a core western value.

Hammond’s unwise outsourcing: The chancellor’s Spring Statement was, as billed, not an active intervention in tax and spending. But Chris Giles argues that it went much too far in making the government a passive respondent to economic forecasts: it is inappropriate, Chris writes, to delegate these most important political decisions to unelected officials.

Seeing sense on the census: Gillian Tett calls for Wilbur Ross, Donald Trump’s commerce secretary, to drop plans to ask respondents in the 2020 US census to give their citizenship status. It is already causing public concern about how the information will be used — not least among immigrant groups — and this could undermine the exercise.

Rise of the Chinese robots: Michael Wooldridge explains that China is now in serious competition with the US for dominance in artificial intelligence. The professor of computer science at Oxford points out that Chinese tech companies have a major advantage in their access to data on a huge scale to feed machine learning.

When the White House and showbiz meet: Robert Shrimsley imagines an update of Donald Trump's television show, in which his catchphrase “You’re fired” is thrown around with gay abandon. If there’s one thing the US president understands, it’s showmanship.

Best of the rest

The Dollar’s Doldrums by Barry Eichengreen for Project Syndicate

Corbyn’s soft line on Russia shows his vision for Britain by Philip Collins in The Times

Tell the truth about our longest war by Susan Rice in the New York Times

Reddit and detoxifying the internet by Andrew Marantz in the New Yorker

The missing piece in Italian politics — women by Rachel Donadio in The Atlantic

What you’ve been saying

The UK regulator has to prove it is serious about protecting whistleblowers— letter from Sir Gerald Howarth

“Recent events have exposed gaping holes in the way organisations and companies handle whistleblowers. As a former minister and member of parliament, I can testify that legislators themselves are feeling the pressure personally. Yet our financial services sector, so critical to the economy both now and in the post-Brexit future, seems to be lagging behind public expectations despite the Financial Conduct Authority’s imposition of formal whistleblowing regulations in September 2016. It is still considering the Barclays Bank case. If it finds the regulations were breached, the case will provide the regulator with an opportunity to show that it is serious about protecting those who raise legitimate concerns. The clarity or otherwise of its response will determine whether those working in the sector will ever truly believe that they can speak up to their employers free from the fear of retaliation and with a fair expectation that the matter will be acted upon promptly and effectively.”

Comment from klirhed on Hard-headed deterrence is the antidote to Putin’s poison

“Despite the weapons and brazenness, Russia has a structurally weak economy with no chance to develop without solid Western investment. Putin bets on the West’s greed and eagerness to do business there (there are fortunes to be had). Russia’s only exports are weapons and fossil fuels. The West should make sure Putin’s mafia dictatorship stays economically weak. Travel to the West by Russians should be severely restricted, Russian oligarch money should no longer be welcome.”

States still have capacity to provide for their citizens— letter from Dan O’Brien

“While there is reason to be concerned that aggressive tax avoidance by multinational companies could negatively affect the capacity of states to provide for their citizens, the evidence to date shows that this has not been happening to any material extent. Data from the OECD show that there has been a (modest) upward trend in profit tax revenues over the past four decades in the 35 high and middle income countries that are members of that club.”

Today’s opinion

FT View: Unilever’s move is not all about Brexit, but . ..
Bellicose rhetoric has an unsettling effect on business sentiment

FT View: A reasoned response to Donald Trump’s irrational tariffs
Trading partners should prioritise bypassing, not confronting, the US

The Donald Trump show, now with added death by tweet
‘Republicans were stunned after the president dismissed Barron Trump as third son’

Philip Hammond has unwisely outsourced his spending plans
The chancellor cedes central lever of government power to unelected officials

Free Lunch: Central banks should not be tempted by the good old days
Calls for normalisation today show an unwillingness to use new tools

China challenges the US for artificial intelligence dominance
Chinese tech companies have a huge natural advantage in terms of access to data

Lombard: What Unilever’s Rotterdam move says about Brexit
A devastating blow for Theresa May, or simply business as usual?

FT View

FT View: Unilever’s move is not all about Brexit, but . ..
Bellicose rhetoric has an unsettling effect on business sentiment

FT View: A reasoned response to Donald Trump’s irrational tariffs
Trading partners should prioritise bypassing, not confronting, the US

The Big Read

The Big Read: The Russian election and the rise of Putin’s young technocrats
Russia’s president is promoting a new generation to prepare for an eventual transition

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