Obama criticizes Trump's 'flattery' of Putin

President Obama on Tuesday criticized Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpClinton takes swipe at 'false equivalency' in media coverage of 2016 election Trump asked Netanyahu if he actually cares about peace: report Official: Trump to urge North Korea to dismantle nuclear program in return for sanctions relief MORE’s “flattery” of Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling it an unprecedented development in American politics.

“Mr. Trump’s continued flattery of Mr. Putin and the degree to which he appears to model his policies and approach to politics on Mr. Putin’s is unprecedented in American politics,” Obama said during a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in the White House Rose Garden.  

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The president also sought to tie Republican supporters of Trump, the GOP presidential nominee, to his embrace of Putin, saying that his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceOvernight Health Care: GOP in retreat on ObamaCare | Drug pricing fight heads to the states | PhRMA spends record amount on lobbying Appeals court: Indiana abortion law signed by Mike Pence unconstitutional Top LGBT group targets Pence in new campaign MORE, had previously taken a tougher line against the Russian leader before he was added to the ticket. 

“Mr. Trump rarely surprises me these days,” Obama said. “I’m much more surprised and troubled by the fact you have Republican officials who historically have been adamantly anti-Russian, and have in fact attacked me for engaging with them diplomatically, now in some cases are supporting or echoing his position." 

“It’s quite a reversal,” he added. “You’ll have to ask them how to explain it.” 

Obama and Democrats have sought to use Trump’s friendly overtures to Putin against him, painting him as a friend of one of the U.S.’s biggest geopolitical foes. 

Trump this week suggested he would meet with Putin before he was sworn in and criticized his Democratic opponent, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton takes swipe at 'false equivalency' in media coverage of 2016 election Former presidents, first ladies come together to honor Barbara Bush Romney: Parts of Comey book read 'too much like a novel’ MORE, for being too “tough” on the Russian leader. 

Obama defended his administration’s handling of Russia, saying he and his former secretary of State sought better relations with Moscow at the outset of his term. 

But the two countries’ differences over the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, and other international issues, have become too big to ignore. 

“Any characterization that we have somehow improperly challenged Russian aggression or have somehow tried to encroach on their legit interests is just wrong,” the president said.