At his annual year-end press conference in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin heaped praise on current GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump. In reports from Reuters and Russian non-government news organization Interfax, Putin referred to Trump as an “outstanding” man who is the “absolute leader” in the U.S. presidential race. Trump has repeatedly referred to Putin as a strong leader in contrast to what he deems is the weak leadership of U.S. President Barack Obama.

Putin Loves Donald Trump

Putin’s Comments

In a tweet in Russian, Interfax wrote “After the conference, Putin said that Donald Trump is a very bright and talented person and the absolute leader of the presidential race”. According to the Interfax report, Putin said “It’s not our job to judge his qualities, that’s a job for American voters, but he’s the absolute leader in the presidential race.”

In the Reuters report, Putin spoke positively of Trump’s views to engage with Russia saying, “He says that he wants to move to another level of relations, to a deeper level of relations with Russia. How can we not welcome that? Of course we welcome it.” In talking about Trump, Putin told reporters “He is a very flamboyant man, very talented, no doubt about that… He is an absolute leader of the presidential race, as we see it today.”

Putin refrained from commenting on other U.S. presidential primary candidates in what was a three hour, seven minute conference that touched on topics ranging from relations to Turkey to economic growth in Russia to rumors concerning his daughters.

Trump’s Past Comments on Putin

While this might be the first time Putin has spoken openly on Trump and the GOP presidential primary, the Donald has commented on Putin repeatedly in the past. Admiring Putin’s toughness and leadership ability, Trump has praised him while claiming that the two would be able to have a proactive, productive relationship. The relationship between Putin and Obama is shaky to say the least partly due to what Trump deems is Putin’s lack of respect for Obama. Furthermore, setting himself apart from the rest of the GOP primary presidential candidates, Trump is supportive of Putin’s intervention in Syria.

At the second GOP presidential primary debate in September, Trump stated his belief that he would be able to have a working relationship with Putin. Responding to a question about how the U.S. should confront Moscow’s support for the Assad government in Syria, Trump said “I would get along with Putin”. He added “I would talk to him, I would get along with him. I believe — and I may be wrong, in which case I’d probably have to take a different path — but I would get along with a lot of the world leaders that this country is not getting along with.”

In early October, Trump appearing on the FOX News show, On The Record with Greta Van Susteren spoke of the Obama-Putin relationship. Regarding the surprise the Obama administration had when Russia began military operations In Syria despite Obama and Putin meeting with each other days earlier, Trump stated “It’s purely lack of respect,” “Pure and simple, it’s lack of respect for President Obama by Putin.”

Admitting that Putin is a liar, Trump did acknowledge his effectiveness at gaining respect in contrast to Obama. Trump stated, “You’re a leader or you’re not a leader” adding “You basically have that ability or you don’t have that ability.” Questions over the effectiveness of Obama’s leadership domestically and internationally have repeatedly been raised by the GOP and some in the Democratic Party.

On the CBS News show Face the Nation, Trump spoke with John Dickerson in October about Putin in Syria. He said “And as far as him [Putin] attacking ISIS, I’m all for it. He added “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, John. Let him bomb them. I think we probably work together much more so than right now.”

In an episode of 60 Minutes in October which featured both Trump and Putin, the former spoke of the relationship between both presidents. “He [Putin] does not like Obama at all. He doesn’t respect Obama at all. And I’m sure that Obama doesn’t like him very much,” Trump said. “But I think that I would probably get along with him very well. And I don’t think you’d be having the kind of problems that you’re having right now.”

Trump has been soaring in polls in the U.S. and is the front-runner in the GOP presidential primary, this despite his often inflammatory remarks that have brought repeated condemnation. While pundits have repeatedly said that past comments would have brought his downfall, they have been proven time and time again to be wrong. If anything, Trump’s popularity and base of support grows each time the media and his opponents lash out at him.

Regarding Putin, his comments of praise on Trump are questionable. Does he genuinely hold a positive view of Trump, is it a view based more so on Trump’s strong attitude, or is he just throwing a curveball? Trump has criticized Putin while also holding a special respect for him. As the rest of the GOP candidates only speak of Putin with disdain, Trump acknowledges the reality that Putin is the leader of Russia and a working relationship based on mutual respect must be established. For Trump, it is what he perceives to be the weakness of Obama that has led Putin to exercise a more active foreign policy that often contradicts U.S. interests. Whatever the case may be, Trump will no doubt use Putin’s comments to maximum effect in the weeks ahead of the Iowa caucuses.