Moscow (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday described US Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump as "talented" and "outstanding," welcoming his stance on Russia.
"He is a very outstanding man, unquestionably talented," Putin told journalists after his annual press conference in Moscow.
"It's not up to us to judge his virtue, that is up to US voters, but he is the absolute leader of the presidential race," Putin added.
Asked about the prospect of a new US president during the three-hour news conference, Putin, whose relationship with Barack Obama is strained at best, said "we first have to understand who it is going to be."
"Whoever it is, we are ready and want to develop our relations with the United States," he said, adding that unlike the US, which "always tries to tell us... who to elect and who not to elect," Russia doesn't do any such thing.
"That would be dangerous," Putin said. "They say the prosecutor there threatens to put you in jail if a foreign monitor approaches the voting queue closer than five metres (yards) away."
Trump, a tycoon and one-time reality television star who has unexpectedly become leader of the Republican presidential candidates' race, has gained both fans and enemies recently for inflammatory remarks against Muslims.
Speaking after a mass shooting in California by a Muslim couple believed to have been radicalised, Trump called for a temporary ban on all Muslims from entering the United States "until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."
British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday called Trump's comments "divisive, stupid and wrong."
Putin said that Trump's comments to his domestic audience while on the campaign trail were not Russia's concern, but added that he likes the Republican hopeful's statements on Russia.
"On domestic politics, his manner of speaking, what he employs to raise his popularity" -- that is none of Russia's business, Putin said. "It's not our concern to evaluate his work."
- 'I would talk to him' -
Some of Trump's statements on Putin were apparently music to the Russian president's ear.
"He says that he wants a different level of relations, tighter and deeper relations with Russia, how can we not welcome that? Of course we welcome it," Putin said.
Trump was asked during one of the debates in September what he would do to get Russia's military presence out of Syria, and answered that he would first get Putin's respect.
"I will get along -- I think -- with Putin, and I will get along with others, and we will have a much more stable -- stable world," Trump said in September. "I would talk to him. I would get along with him."
But Trump also said in October he would like to "sit back" and watch as Russia continues air strikes in Syria, suggesting it could be a "trap" that could bog down Moscow.