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Vladimir Putin says he like guys like Donald Trump

LiveMint logoLiveMint 01-06-2017 John Fraher

London/Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin said he likes guys like Donald Trump and wants to build better relations with the US leader even though swirling controversies in Washington are making it difficult for him to govern.

“He is a straight person and a frank person,’’ Putin told foreign reporters at an economic forum in St Petersburg. “He can’t be put in the same category as normal politicians. I see that as an advantage—he has a fresh set of eyes.’’

The praise from Putin comes amid deepening US probes into whether Trump or his associates had improper contact with Russia. Fired FBI director James Comey may testify in front of a Senate committee next week over whether the president urged him to drop the bureau’s investigation. The Senate panel also plans to hear from Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior aide. Trump has continued to dismiss the probes, labelling them a “witch hunt”.

Putin fielded questions from a small group of media executives for about 90 minutes at the czarist-era Konstantinovsky Palace on Thursday before meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He spoke on subjects ranging from Trump and global security to sanctions and the domestic economy. He even dangled the possibility that “patriotic” Russians may have been involved in hacking election campaigns, though he denied any Kremlin role.

First meeting

Putin cautioned that it’s hard for him to form a proper impression of the US president because they’ve only ever talked by phone. He and Trump are due to meet for the first time at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg in July.

“How can you be friends with someone you don’t know?’’ Putin said. “I don’t think he can call me a friend. We have never seen each other in person.’’

While Trump, like other leaders, risks becoming overly constrained by the bureaucratic apparatus that surrounds him, Putin said he has no plans to give the billionaire advice on governing. He said he was unsure how the relationship will develop, given “the ongoing political struggles” in Washington.

Putin repeated denials that Russia’s government has anything to do with hacking elections, after US officials accused the Kremlin of interfering in the 2016 presidential vote to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.

Patriotic hackers

Putin, who’s been in power 17 years and is widely-expected to seek re-election next March, compared Russian hackers to free-spirited “artists” who may be people who wake up one morning, see how their homeland is being maligned in the foreign press and decide to act on their own.

“If they’re patriotically-minded, they start making their contribution,’’ he said.

Putin, 64, once more accused the West of seeking to monopolize power and prevent the emergence of multiple centres of global influence by countering his country’s efforts to assert itself on the world stage.

“The multi-polar world is becoming more of a reality and the monopolists don’t like that,” he said. “This is happening in no small part because of Russia’s fight for its interests, its legitimate interests, I want to stress that.”

‘Anti-Russian campaign’

Putin warned that what he sees as an “anti-Russian campaign” hurts all sides. “I hope that it won’t go on for too long, that it won’t last forever, because the realization must come that it is counterproductive and harms everyone.”

On sanctions, Putin singled out Italy for praise, not only for being against the penalties imposed on Russia following the 2014 annexation of Crimea but also for opposing such measures in general as a brake on global growth.

Putin said he’s confident Russia’s economy is recovering and his policymakers are working on a series of stimulus plans to further boost growth, citing special economic zones and investment projects. He also reiterated his commitment to a floating ruble exchange rate. Bloomberg

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