Russian President Vladimir Putin has given a glowing review of one of the most controversial candidates for the U.S. presidency, telling Russian media that Donald Trump was an absolute leader in the race.
Putin made the comments Thursday to Russian news agency Interfax after taking reporter questions for three hours as part of his annual press conference in Moscow.
"After the conference, Putin said that Donald Trump is a very bright and talented person and the absolute leader of the presidential race," Interfax tweeted in Russian.
Putin's remarks come after Trump's flattering words for the Russian president in November, when the tycoon cited high ratings of a September episode of CBS' "60 Minutes" which featured both Trump and Putin.
"I believe we will have a very good relationship with Russia. I believe that I will have a very good relationship with Putin," Trump said.
On Thursday, Putin added that Russia would welcome Donald Trump's willingness to have deeper relations with the country, according to Interfax, and said it wasn't his business to assess how Trump was boosting his popularity in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Putin also took questions regarding ties with Turkey, and accused the former ally of hiding behind the power of NATO rather than trying to fix deteriorating relations with Russia.
The president railed against Turkey for the way it reacted after shooting down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border on Nov. 24. Turkey claimed the plane was repeatedly warned that it was violating Turkish airspace.
"Just pick up the phone and explain it to one another," Putin said. "Instead, they immediately fled to Brussels…(and) began to hide behind NATO."
The president also took a jab at Turkey's improving relationship with the U.S., suggesting Turkey's leadership "decided to lick the Americans in one place," which elicited audience applause.
Earlier this week, Russia's ambassador to Turkey set three conditions for restoring ties with the country. Speaking to Turkish news site Cumhuriyet on Monday, Andrey Karlov said Turkey must apologize for shooting down the plane, hold the appropriate parties accountable and financially compensate Russia for damages.
However, hopes of normalized relations with Turkey were quashed after Putin suggested Thursday it would be difficult to reach any agreement while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party were in power.
"It is hard for us to reach agreement with the current Turkish leadership, if at all possible," Putin said, according to a Reuters translation.
Putin said he didn't understand Turkey's motivation for downing the plane, calling it "an act of enmity."
Still, Putin suggested that Russia's Turkish-speaking people shouldn't be vilified, saying those who have ethnic ties with Russia should stay in contact.