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Pence talks tough on Russia and backs away from praise for Putin — but did he call him a ‘better’ leader than Obama?

Pence talks tough on Russia and backs away from praise for Putin — but did he call him a ‘better’ leader than Obama?

 (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Mike Pence took a hard line when it came to Russia, a somewhat surprising turn given what has been the Putin-friendly posture of his running mate.

“The provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength,” Pence said during a discussion of the conflict in Syria during Tuesday’s vice presidential debate. 

He later suggested that the United States should deploy a missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland, one that he noted President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opted against early in the president’s term (the U.S. and NATO have since moved to bolster its presence in Eastern Europe).

“We’ve just got to have American strength on the world stage, and when Donald Trump becomes president of the United States, the Russians and other countries in the world will know they’re dealing with a strong American president.”

Kaine said Clinton would stand up to Russia in a way that Trump would not, noting the Republican nominee has repeatedly praised President Vladimir Putin and raising “shadowy connections with pro-Putin forces.”

Kaine then attacked Pence directly for “the odd claim” that Putin was a “better” leader than Obama.

“Vladimir Putin’s run his economy into the ground, he persecutes LGBT folks and journalists. If you don’t know the difference between dictatorship and leadership, then you have got to go back to a fifth-grade civics class,” Kaine said. 

“That is absolutely inaccurate,” Pence later claimed of his previous comments comparing Obama and Putin. 

As Kaine said, you can go to the tape. Speaking on CNN from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Pence backed up his running mate’s comments about the Russian leader.

“I think it’s inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country,” Pence said then.

Pence’s point Tuesday seemed to be that there is a distinction between calling Putin a “better” leader than a “stronger” leader.

“He’s been stronger on the world stage,” Pence said again Tuesday.

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