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Why is Putin endorsing Trump?

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AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

(Read caption) Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during the annual end of year news conference in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015. President Vladimir Putin said Thursday Russia is ready to improve ties with the United States and work with whomever is elected its next president.

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At his annual end-of-the-year televised press conference in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin debriefed journalists on the Ukraine crisis, Syria and tackling Islamic State, reviving relations with Turkey, Russia’s flailing economy, and the US presidential election. 

Mr. Putin singled out Donald Trump. 

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“He’s a very lively man, talented without doubt,” said Putin, according to the Interfax news service. He added Trump is “the absolute leader in the presidential race.” 

Putin said Russia would work with “whomever America chooses,” but gave special attention to the American real estate magnate and television personality.

“[Trump’s] saying he wants to go to another level of relations, closer, deeper relations with Russia. How can we not welcome that? Of course we welcome that.” 

Donald Trump remains the frontrunner in the Republican primaries, coming in first in the polls after the fifth GOP debate on Tuesday. Trump’s slogan, to “make America great again” could not be more different from Putin’s agenda – to reassert Russia as a dominant military and economic force.

Trump has spoken in the past of warming US-Russian relations with Putin, and although he claims the two are very different, he says they share a few similarities. Namely, a mutual distaste for President Obama.

“I will get along – I think – with Putin, and I will get along with others, and we will have a much more stable – stable world,” Trump said during a GOP debate, adding, “I would talk to him. I’d get along with him.”

Trump has also given something of a backhanded compliment to Putin’s Syria policy, claiming he would like to “sit back” and watch Russia fall into a self-inflicted “trap” by continuing its air strikes in Syria in support of Assad.

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Appearing on CBS's "Face The Nation" in October, Trump told host John Dickerson that he was “all for it” if Russia attacked Syria. “If he wants to be bombing the hell out of ISIS, which he’s starting to do, if he wants to be bombing ISIS, let him bomb them. Let him bomb them. I think we probably work together much more so than right now.”

Putin’s relationship with the United States has been tense in recent years. President Obama issued sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea and has consistently disapproved of Putin’s support for Assad in Syria. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, has criticized Obama’s foreign policy. As Alan Rappeport wrote for The New York Times, the unlikely pair seem to be forming something of a “long-distance bromance.” 

“The long-distance admiration between Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump is not completely surprising, as Mr. Trump has sought to project toughness throughout his campaign. Mr. Putin, a hockey-playing judo expert who can be found riding horses shirtless, projects a similar image in his own way.”