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Moscow • President Vladimir Putin was both cordial and coarse in his year-end news conference Thursday, saying the U.S. and Russia have narrowed their differences on Syria and share the same view of how to settle the conflict.
He reserved his crudest language for Turkey, suggesting that some leaders of the NATO ally may have wanted to "lick the Americans in some of their private parts" by shooting down a Russian warplane on the Syrian border. That miscalculation by Turkey was now hurting its own interests, Putin said at his marathon meeting with Russian and foreign journalists.
The Russian leader even gave a shoutout to Donald Trump, calling the Republican presidential candidate a "very bright and talented man."
Speaking with emphasis and gesturing energetically throughout a news conference that lasted more than three hours and was televised live, Putin also vowed that the killing of a Russian opposition leader gunned down near the Kremlin in February will be solved and no one will be immune from prosecution.
Putin said the Russian air campaign in Syria, which began Sept. 30, will continue until a political process begins, adding that Moscow would back the latest U.S. proposals for a peace process in the civil war.
Commenting on relations with Washington, Putin said that Russia backs a U.S.-drafted U.N. Security Council resolution on settling the crisis. The plan was presented by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Moscow earlier this week.
"In general, it suits us," Putin said. "I believe that the Syrian authorities should be OK with it, too."
He added that while the Syrian government "may not like some of it ... concessions must be made by both sides" to end the conflict that has killed more than 250,000 and turned millions into refugees since 2011.
The Russian plan for settling the conflict "strangely as it may seem, coincides with the U.S. vision in its key aspects: joint work on a constitution, creation of instruments of control over future early elections, holding the vote and recognizing its results on the basis of that political process," Putin said.
"We will help settle this crisis in every possible way, and we will try to find solutions acceptable for all parties," he said. At the same time, he reaffirmed Russia's stance on the key issue dividing Russia and the West, the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad, saying the Syrians themselves must determine who rules them.
Putin said he was unsure whether to keep a permanent base in Syria, because Russia's new sea- and air-launched cruise missiles used recently in the country have given Moscow enough punch to strike from afar.
Addressing strained relations with Turkey, Putin said he "it's practically impossible" to overcome tensions with Ankara under its current leaders after it shot down a Russian bomber. Russia has introduced economic sanctions against Turkey, including a ban on the sale of tour packages that is estimated to cost the Turkish tourist industry billions of dollars a year.
"Someone in the Turkish leadership may have decided to lick the Americans in some of their private parts" in the hope that Washington would turn a blind eye to Turkey's deployment of additional troops to Iraq if they down a Russian plane, Putin said. "I don't know if the Americans wanted it or not," he added.
But the Russian leader also said that Kerry's visit to Moscow has shown that "the American side is ready to move toward joint settlement of the issues that can only be settled together."
"We are ready and we want to develop our ties with the United States," he said. "We are open, and we will work with any president the American people will vote for."
When Putin was asked about Trump. He called the GOP contender the "absolute leader" in the race, and a "bright and talented man."
Putin added he "certainly welcomes" Trump's calls for better U.S.-Russia ties.
Putin praises Donald Trump
In Vladimir Putin's view, Donald Trump is "bright and talented." But as much as those words sound overtly like praise, there are some murky nuances.
The most unequivocally favorable part of the comments the Russian leader made Thursday after his annual year-end news conference was about the Republican presidential aspirant's claims that he wants to improve Russian relations.
"He says that he wants to move to another, closer level of relations. Can we really not welcome that? Of course we welcome that," Putin said.
Trump hasn't given details about how he would go about achieving that, relying instead on his fireproof self-regard.
"I think that I would probably get along with him very well," Trump said in an October interview with CBS. Putin "does not like Obama at all. He doesn't respect Obama at all. And I'm sure that Obama doesn't like him very much," Trump had said.
Russia-U.S. relations have hit a particularly low point during the Obama administration, with the Kremlin alleging that Washington's pressure on Moscow over human rights and the sanctions imposed over Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine are a cover for fomenting unrest aimed at driving Putin out of office.
The Associated Press