Donald Trump criticized his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, for ‘speaking very badly’ of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The remarks are the latest instance in which Trump has curiously come to the defense of the authoritarian Russian president, who is being blamed for meddling in the US election while pursuing aggressive, militaristic policies in Europe and in Syria.
‘She speaks very badly of Putin, and I don’t think that’s smart,’ the Republican nominee for president told a crowd of thousands during a rally in the crucial battleground state of Ohio.
‘How do you speak so badly of someone?’ he asked, noting that Russia possesses nuclear weapons.
Trump has been criticized throughout his campaign for failing to denounce Putin, even as US intelligence officials say they’ve found evidence linking Russia to recent hacking efforts that appear aimed at influencing the outcome of November’s election.
The New York real estate mogul’s warm words for Putin are also at odds with traditional Republican Party orthodoxy that has always advocated for taking a hawkish, adversarial posture toward Moscow.
During the most recent presidential debate last week, Clinton said that Trump would be a ‘puppet’ of Putin if elected.
Trump has long argued that the US would be better off if it had a more productive working relationship with Russia.
He has called for the two countries to work together to take on Islamic State militants, despite their differences over Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.
Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, has taken a harder line on Putin, describing him during the vice presidential debate as a ‘small and bullying leader.’