RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he welcomed comments by U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump that he wanted deeper relations with Russia.
“He is a very flamboyant man, very talented, no doubt about that. But it’s not our business to judge his merits, it’s up to the voters of the United States,” Putin told reporters.
“He is an absolute leader of the presidential race, as we see it today. He says that he wants to move to another level relations, a deeper level of relations with Russia. How can we not welcome that? Of course, we welcome it,” Putin said.
In response, Trump said he was honored.
“It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond,” Trump said in a statement.
“I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect.”
Trump has argued on the campaign trail that his experience in business makes him qualified to undertake foreign policy because he would be able to negotiate with heads of state. Trump has previously stated he would get along with Putin.
Republican rival Jeb Bush said the support for Trump from Putin was evidence that the New York real estate mogul is like Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. He called Trump “Hillary 2.0” on the social media website Twitter.
Asked about Putin’s comments, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said they sounded pretty close to an endorsement of Trump. But he would not weigh in on whether a Trump presidency would change U.S.-Russian relations.
“I haven’t spent a lot of time contemplating the consequences of a Trump presidency,” Earnest said.
“I think President Obama has effectively managed our relationship with Russia in a way that has advanced the interests of the United States, while also standing up for the basic international norms that Russia violated based on their activities along and across the Ukrainian border,” he said.