Putin's close friend: Donald Trump will be next U.S. president

MOSCOW (Reuters) - One of Vladimir Putin’s closest friends said on Thursday he believed Donald Trump would be the next president of the United States and that Western leaders were no match for the Russian president.

Donald Trump attends a church service in Detroit, Michigan. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Sergei Roldugin, a childhood friend of Putin’s and godfather to his eldest daughter, made international headlines earlier this year after his name featured in the leaked Panama Papers as the owner of a sprawling network of offshore accounts.

Some Western media said the papers suggested Roldugin, 64, was looking after Putin’s money. Putin called such reports “a provocation” and said Roldugin, a famous cellist, had done nothing wrong and spent the money he earned from business on buying expensive musical instruments.

Speaking to reporters in the Kremlin on Thursday before Putin bestowed a state award on him, Roldugin said:

“I know who will win in America. You may check it later. Trump will win.” He went on to say that politicians changed their behavior once they were in power.

“I can’t say I feel euphoria about Trump winning because he said he was with Putin and Hillary (Clinton) hasn’t said that. Putin has said he will work with either and he’s right.”

Trump, the Republican candidate, has been criticized by Clinton, his Democratic Party rival, for praising Putin as a strong leader and saying ties with Moscow should be improved at a time when Moscow and Washington are at odds over Syria and Ukraine.

The Kremlin has tried to take a neutral stance on the U.S. election, saying it will respect the choice of the American people, though Kremlin-backed TV channels have tilted their coverage in favor of Trump, whom Putin called “very talented.”

Roldugin told reporters Putin was a more impressive leader than his various Western counterparts.

“The one thing I’ve always admired about him is that he is not afraid to assume responsibility. He often comes under heavy criticism, but he is not afraid (of that) and says: ‘Yes that’s what we decided, that’s what I decided.’”

“He is not afraid of taking responsibility, unlike many Western politicians and American politicians who, as far as I understand, can’t bring themselves to say ‘That’s what I decided and that’s how it will be.’”

Roldugin listed German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, and U.S. President Barack Obama as being guilty of not taking responsibility and of concealing the true nature of agreements they had struck.

Reporting by Denis Pinchuk; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Osborn