Mike Pont/WireImage;Sasha Mordovets/Getty
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December 17, 2015 02:45 PM

Russian President Vladimir Putin heaped praise on GOP hopeful Donald Trump on Thursday and said he would “welcome” a Trump presidency.

“He’s a very lively man, talented without doubt,” Putin said in his annual end-of-the-year news conference Thursday, according to the Washington Post.

Although Putin said Russia would work with “whoever the American voters choose,” he singled out Trump as the “absolute leader in the presidential race.”

“He’s saying he wants to go to another level of relations – closer, deeper relations with Russia,” Putin added. “How can we not welcome that? Of course we welcome that.”

The admiration is mutual.

Trump said in a statement to PEOPLE on Thursday, “It is always 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.

Trump has said throughout his campaign that he believes he’d “get along very well” with Putin. He echoed that sentiment during a GOP debate in September, adding, “And we will have a much more stable world.” He also said Putin had “no respect” for President Obama.

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