(CNSNews.com) – Donald Trump’s views on President Vladimir Putin were once again a focus of discussion during Thursday night’s Fox News Republican presidential debate, with the frontrunner denying claims that he has expressed admiration for the Russian leader.
Sen. Marco Rubio, while critiquing some of Trump’s foreign policy positions, said, “Vladimir Putin, who you’ve expressed admiration for, Donald—”
“Wrong,” interjected Trump. “Wrong, wrong.”
“You’ve expressed admiration for him,” Rubio said. “Someone you’ve said is a strong leader. He’s now dividing Europe up—”
“Wrong, wrong,” Trump repeated. “He said very good things about me, and I said—”
“I’m going to finish my statement here,” said Rubio. “And he’s also sowing instability in the Middle East.”
Moments later Trump returned to the topic.
“I’ve been hearing this man [Rubio] so long talking about Putin. Putin said about me – I didn’t say about Putin, Putin said very nice things about me. And I say very nicely, wouldn’t it be nice if actually we could get along with Russia, we could get along with foreign countries, instead of spending trillions and trillions of dollars …?”
While most of his Republican rivals have criticized Putin over Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria, Trump has sounded a different note during the campaign, saying during a CNN-hosted debate last September that he would “get along with” Putin.
“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,” he said then.
In a Fox Business Network debate in November, Trump wrangled with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush over Russian actions.
“If Putin wants to go in and knock the hell out of ISIS I am all for it, 100 percent, and I can’t understand how anybody can be against it,” Trump said, referring to the Russian military offensive which Putin says aims to defeat the terrorist group in Syria – but the U.S. says is designed more to prop up the Assad regime.
The following month, Putin said during his marathon annual press conference that he would work with whomever wins the 2016 U.S. presidential race, but when questioned by reporters afterwards had particular praise for Trump.
“He’s a very bright personality, a talented person, no doubt,” Putin told reporters. “But it’s not our job to judge his accomplishments – that’s the job of the voters of the United States.”
“He says that he wants to have a deeper relationship between us, new levels of cooperation. How can we not welcome that?” he asked. “Of course we welcome that.”
“But when it comes to internal politics, the way he uses his words, how popular he is, again I repeat, it is not our business to make judgments about his work,” Putin added.
In a statement that day, Trump welcomed Putin’s remarks, calling it “a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”
“I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect,” he added.
In an MSNBC interview the same day, Trump was asked about Putin’s comments.
“I’ve always felt fine about Putin,” he said. “He’s a strong leader, he’s a powerful leader.” Trump went on to point to Putin’s high popularity ratings, contrasting them to President Obama’s much lower ones.