MOSCOW—Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday offered what appeared to be his strongest support yet for US presidential candidate Donald Trump—without explicitly naming him.
“We are carefully watching what is happening in the United States and we, of course, view with sympathy those who publicly state that it is necessary to build a relationship with Russia, on basis of equality,” he told journalists at a briefing shown on television.
His remarks were a clear allusion to Trump, the outspoken Republican nominee, who has emphatically professed his readiness to work with Putin, and at one point even said the Russian strongman was much more of a leader than US President Barack Obama.
Putin has so far refused to publicly endorse either candidate.
Trump’s praise for Putin, who is reviled by many in the West over his stance on Ukraine and Syria, has raised eyebrows and drawn sharp criticism, particularly from his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Putin and Trump are not known to have met but the Russian leader shared many tense moments with Clinton when she was secretary of state, even accusing her of meddling in his own election in 2012.
Putin’s third term has been marked by rampant anti-Americanism in state media and efforts to stamp out US influence in Russia, which included the banning of several American NGOs and halting the adoption of Russian children by Americans.
The Russian leader also said Saturday that treating another country as an “evil empire” is a tactic to divert attention from other problems.
“Attempts to recreate the image of a so-called ‘evil empire’ and to scare laymen in this manner… (are) attempts to manipulate public opinion,” he said.
“This is rather tragic, it’s a crude and counterproductive attempt, and it has nothing to do with the essence of the problems… faced by the United States, of which there are many.”