Putin says accepts U.S. is sole superpower, dilutes Trump praise

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin said on Friday he accepted the United States was probably still the world’s sole superpower and he was ready to work with whoever won the presidency, but didn’t want to be told how to live by Americans.

Putin’s comments follow a rocky period in U.S.-Russia relations, which have been undermined by disagreements over issues such as Ukraine and Syria.

Putin reiterated criticism of what he said was the misguided role of the United States in Ukraine’s affairs and said he opposed what he cast as U.S. efforts to prevent Russia repairing its relations with the European Union.

But he had some positive words too.

“America is a great power - today probably the only superpower. We accept that,” Putin said at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. “We want to and are ready to work with the United States."

Asked about Donald Trump, Putin appeared to play down positive comments he had made about the Republican contender in the past, saying those had been misinterpreted.

In December, Putin described Trump as "very flamboyant”, “very talented” and “an absolute leader in the presidential race”.

Those comments, along with warm words from Trump about Putin, have fueled speculation the Kremlin would be pleased to see Trump in the White House.

But on Friday Putin said he had only described Trump as “flamboyant”.

“He is, isn’t he?” said Putin with a smile. “I did not give any other assessment of him."

Putin said he welcomed Trump’s desire to restore U.S.-Russia ties. "What’s wrong with that?” Putin asked, drawing applause from the audience.

He appeared keen however to hedge Russia’s bets by avoiding the impression he was taking sides, and also emphasized his “warm relations” with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, whose wife Hillary is running for the White House.

Putin said he was grateful for the attention and respect Bill Clinton had shown to Russia and Putin personally.

He had less to say about Hillary Clinton though, saying he had never worked with her directly.

(Reporting by Christian Lowe, Alexander Winning, Katya Golubkova and Elena Fabrichnaya; Writing by Jason Bush and Polina Devitt; Editing by Andrew Osborn)