Donald Trump has showered Vladimir Putin with praise as he and rival Hillary Clinton took pointed questions from military veterans.
The Republican presidential nominee told the forum the Russian president “has been a leader far more than our president [Obama] has been”.
It came on the same day the chief of the Pentagon accused Russia of sowing the seeds of global instability.
Mrs Clinton, meanwhile, defended her judgment despite her email scandal.
The White House candidates appeared back to back on stage in half-hour segments at the Intrepid Air and Sea Museum in New York on Wednesday night.
Quizzed by NBC host Matt Lauer on his previous complimentary remarks about Mr Putin, Mr Trump responded: “He does have an 82% approval rating.”
“I think when he calls me brilliant I’ll take the compliment, ok?” added the businessman.
He said Mr Putin had “great control over his country”.
Mr Trump also predicted that if elected in November, “I think that I’ll be able to get along with him.”
The property magnate recently drew sharp criticism when he urged Russia to dig up the emails that Mrs Clinton deleted from her email server.
‘Unilluminating blather’ – US media’s initial response
Gabriel Debenedetti writes on the Politico website that neither candidate did much to advance their cause, with Hillary Clinton spending “a third of the time fending off questions about her emails” while “Donald Trump struggled to explain his secret plan to defeat the Islamic State.”