U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared to backtrack on his praise of Vladimir Putin, saying he is now unsure how his relationship with the Russian president will evolve.
A day after his running mate Mike Pence broke ranks during a vice presidential debate and called Putin "a small and bullying leader," Trump adjusted his own previously warm rhetoric toward the Russian.
"I don't love[Putin]. I don't hate. We'll see how it works," Trump told supporters in Nevada on October 5. "Maybe we'll have a good relationship. Maybe we'll have a horrible relationship. Maybe we'll have a relationship right in the middle."
Trump has previously asserted that, if elected, he would have a good relationship with Putin, who he praised as a strong leader.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has repeatedly criticized and highlighted Trump's praise for Putin as evidence he lacks the good judgment needed to be president, while she has raised questions about the real estate mogul's business interests in Russia.
Clinton repeated the charges on October 5, saying Trump has "this weird fascination with dictators."
"My opponent seems not to know the difference between an ally and adversary," Clinton said at a fund-raiser in Washington. "There seems to be some misunderstanding about what it means to have a dictatorship and provide leadership."
Pence, in contrast to Trump, during the October 4 vice-presidential debate denounced Russia for its "barbarous" attacks on the Syrian city of Aleppo, where Russian aerial bombing has provided backup for Syrian regime forces attempting to retake rebel-held parts of the city.
Pence also went further than Trump and said the United States should use military force against regime targets in Syria unless Russia stops its Aleppo bombing campaign.
But instead, he noted that the Obama administration decided earlier this week to abandon joint efforts to negotiate a cease-fire with Russia, leading Russia in the days since to bolster its forces and presence in Syria with the goal of helping the Syrian regime win the civil war there.
"The small and bullying leader of Russia is now dictating terms to the United States," Pence said.
While Trump changed his tune and cooled some toward Putin on October 5, he continued to maintain that Russia could be a valuable ally in the fight against the Islamic State extremist group in Syria and Iraq.
"I will say if we get along with Russia and Russia went out with us and knocked the hell out of ISIS, that's OK with me, folks," he said.
With reporting by AP and Reuters