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Putin Speaks: Trump Is 'Absolute Leader' In Race; U.S. An Ally Against ISIS

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual year-end news conference in Moscow on Thursday.
Alexander Zemlianichenko

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia and the United States can work together on a plan for Syria and defeating ISIS, saying the group "is posing a threat to everyone. So the sooner we do this, the sooner we settle the conflict, the better."

Speaking in a large auditorium at his annual year-end news conference, Putin added that the solution in Syria is a political one — and that in principle, Russia agrees with the American plan for the region. He also said Russia wants to improve relations with the U.S.

"In any case, whoever is [elected in the U.S.], we are ready and want to develop our relations with the United States," Putin said, according to state-run TASS media.

Update at 8:45 a.m. ET: Praising Donald Trump

"He is a bright and talented person without any doubt. He is the absolute leader of the presidential race," Putin says of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, adding that he welcomes Trump's statements about strengthening ties with Russia.

"That is none of our business to evaluate his accomplishments, but he remains the absolute front-runner in the presidential race. He is an outstanding and talented personality without any doubts," Putin said.

In July, Trump predicted that if he became president, he and Putin would get along "very well."

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Putin also had harsh words for America's ally, Turkey, over the shooting down of a Russian military jet, saying that he doesn't see relations with that country improving.

"We say that the action of the Turkish authorities in regard to our aircraft, which they downed, was not an act of unfriendliness, but an act of hostility," Putin said. He also faulted Turkey's leaders for "hiding behind NATO."

Here are more highlights from Putin's news conference, from the state-run TASS news agency:

  • "I'm proud of them" — speaking about his rarely discussed daughters, and confirming that they live in Russia.
  • On Russia potentially putting a permanent base in Turkey: "Why should we have a base there? If we are to really hit some target, we will do that."
  • "That's who should be given the Nobel Peace Prize." — Putin on embattled FIFA official Sepp Blatter.
  • Ukraine won't face sanctions, Putin said, but "regrettably, we predict a worsening of economic relations with Ukraine as of Jan. 1. We will have to make a decision we will no longer be doing business with Ukraine as a member of the CIS free trade zone."
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    Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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