During a televised forum Wednesday night, Trump praised Putin again and said he believed him to be a better leader than President Obama.
“The man has very strong control over a country,” Trump said during a Q&A with an NBC moderator. "Now, it’s a very different system, a system I happen not to like. But certainly in that system, he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.”
Asked today about Trump’s remarks, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov largely declined to comment, saying Russia will judge both U.S. presidential candidates not on statements made in their campaigns but on what they would say after installed in the White House.
“The main thing is what will the newly elected U.S. president say,” Peskov told reporters at a briefing. “We hope that with the completion of the election campaigns we will see such political will towards straightening up good relations between the states.”
Trump’s outreach to Putin has drawn controversy in the United States, at a time when a resurgent Russia has been challenging U.S. hegemony around the world, waging a covert war in eastern Ukraine and stymieing U.S. policy in Syria.
During Wednesday’s forum, NBC’s Matt Lauer challenged Trump over his admiration for Putin.
“If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him,” Trump told Lauer. “Do you want me to start naming some of the things President Obama does?”
Recently, Putin has been less complimentary of Trump, criticizing both him and Clinton for using what he-called “shock tactics” in the campaign.
But in Russia there is little doubt which candidate the Kremlin believes closer to its line of thinking. A peculiar, miniature version of the U.S. campaign has appeared recently on Moscow’s streets, with pro-Kremlin state-funded activist groups demonstrating to praise Trump and aggressively criticizing Clinton, who they paint as a warmonger and a liar.
More than backing Trump, Russia analysts and U.S. intelligence officials have warned they believe Russia may be seeking to sow uncertainty and undermine confidence in America’s democratic process by trying to interfere in the elections.
"For Trump to both encourage that and to praise Putin despite what appears to be a deliberate effort to try to affect the election I think raises national security issues," Clinton told Fox News in August.
Trump’s campaign has strongly denied he has any links to the Kremlin or is under its influence. At Wednesday’s forum, Trump said his friendly words to Putin were simply part of negotiation.
““Look, it’s not going to get him anywhere,” Trump told Lauer. “I’m a negotiator. It’s not going to have any impact.”