Pence calls Putin 'small and bullying' leader

Kaine: Let's start by not praising Putin as a great leader
Kaine: Let's start by not praising Putin as a great leader

Mike Pence and Tim Kaine had a choppy exchange Tuesday on American policy toward Russia, with Pence taking on a more hawkish tone than his running mate Donald Trump has previously.

At the vice presidential debate at Longwood University in Virginia, both vice presidential candidates aimed to defend their running mates on policy toward Russia. Democratic nominee Sen. Tim Kaine targeted Trump's previous comments about Putin's strong leadership, while Pence tried to parry the attacks but clouded the ticket's views on Russia.

Pence, the Indiana governor, called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "small and bullying leader," taking a much harsher tone than his running mate on the Russian leader who has consolidated power around him.

"The provocations by Russia need to be met by American strength," Pence said, referencing Russia's annexation of Crimea and other actions around the world.

Trump has so far failed to offer many coherent policies on Russia, going as far as to call Putin a stronger leader than U.S. President Barack Obama and not clarifying in some interviews whether he would allow Russia's actions in Ukraine or whether he would let Russia take the lead in Syria. The U.S. has previously raised concerns about Russia's support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad amid a civil war in the country.

In a rapid series of attacks, Kaine slammed Trump and Pence for their previous comments about Putin, alleging Donald Trump has not released his tax returns because they may show possible conflicts of interest with Russia.

Pence denied that Trump did not know that Russia annexed the Ukrainian province of Crimea, though he did in an previous interview. Pence claimed that he and Trump acknowledged "painful facts" by saying Putin "has been stronger on the world stage" than the Obama administration.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine (L) and Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence (R) speak during the Vice Presidential Debate at Longwood University on October 4, 2016 in Farmville, Virginia. This is the second of four debates during the presidential election season and the only debate between the vice presidential candidates.
Getty Images