Putin: Romney 'without a doubt mistaken' on Russia

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But Putin said he remained hopeful he could settle the dispute with President Obama, whom the Russian leader said was "an honest person who really wants to change much for the better."

By contrast, Putin — who was just elected to another six-year term in May — was more critical of the president's Republican challenger. Romney made waves earlier this year when he called Russia "without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe" and promised "more backbone" in Russian foreign policy. 

"As for Mr. Romney's position, we understand that it is in part ... campaign rhetoric, but I think it is, of course, without a doubt mistaken," Putin said. "Because to conduct oneself like that in the international arena is the same as using the instruments of nationalism and segregation in the domestic politics of your own country."

They were the Russian president's first remarks publicly about the Republican nominee. 

Still, Putin said he'd be willing to work with whichever candidate prevailed in November.

"We'll work with whichever president is elected by the American people. But our effort will be only as efficient as our partners will want it to be," Putin said.

Putin also addressed the three-year sentence for punk band Pussy Riot, whose members were arrested following a "punk prayer" prank in a Russian cathedral. Putin defended the sentence and said he was not stifling the opposition.

"What is 'tightening the screws'?" he said. "If this means the demand that everyone, including representatives of the opposition, obey the law, then yes, this demand will be consistently implemented."