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Putin Pans Media for 'Distorting' Praise of Trump, But Welcomes Trump's Russia Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin said today that he welcomes a Donald Trump presidency if it would lead to the “full-scale restoration” of relations in the wake of sanctions levied on the Kremlin after their invasion of Ukraine.

Putin was being questioned by CNN host Fareed Zakaria on stage during the plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum when Zakaria asked about Putin’s past compliments of the presumptive GOP nominee.

In December, Putin called Trump “a bright and talented person without any doubt,” Putin said, adding that he’s “an outstanding and talented personality.”

Last month, Trump was asked on CNN about Russian planes doing dangerous aerial maneuvers near U.S. crafts. “I would call him and I’d say don’t do it again. I would say don’t do it again. And I think I’ll have a good relationship with him. So far, we’re off to a good start. He said, ‘Trump is a genius,’ OK?” Trump replied.

Zakaria asked Putin about calling Trump “brilliant, outstanding, talented,” and “what in him led you to that judgment.”

“You are well known in our country, you personally. Not only as a host of a major TV corporation, but also as an intellectual. Why are you distorting everything? The journalist in you is getting the better of the analyst,” Putin chided Zakaria.

“Look, what did I say? I said in passing that Trump is a vivid personality. Is he not? He is. I did not ascribe any other characteristics to him. However, what I definitely note and what I definitely welcome – and I see nothing wrong about this, just the opposite – is that Mr. Trump said that he is ready for the full-scale restoration of Russian-U.S. relations. What is wrong with that? We all welcome this! Don’t you?” the president continued.

“We never interfere in the internal politics of other countries, especially the United States. However, we will work with any president that the U.S. people vote for. Although I do not think, by the way, that — well, they lecture everyone on how to live and on democracy. Now, do you really think presidential elections there are democratic? Look, twice in U.S. history a president was elected by a majority of electors, but standing behind those electors was a smaller number of voters. Is that democracy?” Putin added.

The Russian leader reiterated “this is none of our business — although, in my opinion, even prosecutors there chase international observers away from polling stations during election campaigns. U.S. prosecutors threaten to jail them. However, these are their own problems; this is how they do things and they like it.”

“America is a great power, today perhaps the only superpower. We accept this,” Putin said. “We want to work with the United States and we are prepared to. No matter how these elections go, eventually they will take place. There will be a head of state with extensive powers. There are complicated internal political and economic processes at work in the United States. The world needs a powerful country like the United States, and we also need it. But we do not need it to continuously interfere in our affairs, telling us how to live, and preventing Europe from building a relationship with us.”

“How are the sanctions that you have mentioned affecting the United States? In no way whatsoever. It could not care less about these sanctions because the consequences of our actions in response have no impact on it. They impact Europe but not the United States. Zero effect. However, the Americans are telling their partners: ‘Be patient.’ Why should they? I do not understand. If they want to, let them.”

Russia has been under EU and U.S. sanctions since 2014. Putin accused NATO, which is building up military presence in Eastern Europe to protect other states, of a longtime plot to “expand its infrastructure towards Russia’s borders.”

Of the Ukraine occupation, Putin said “it is all about people, no matter what you call them.”

“It is about people trying to protect their legal rights and interests, who fear repression if these interests are not upheld at the political level.”

On the U.S. presidential election: “We do not lavish praise on anybody. It’s none of our business. As Germans say, ‘this is not our beer.’ Because when they make their choice, we will work with any president who has received the support of the American people, in the hope that it will be a person who seeks to develop relations with our country and help build a more secure world.”