Vladimir Putin has voiced his support for French presidential candidate Francois Fillon and stated that the front-runner was an "ultimate professional" and that the two had developed exceptional personal relations. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday (23 November), the Russian president extolled the centre-right candidate's many virtues and welcomed intentions to improve ties between Paris and Moscow.

"We worked together with Francois when he headed the French government, and I chaired the [Russian] government ... we had a lot of meetings, and have developed certain personal relations, very kind ones," Putin said of the presidential hopeful who won the primaries on Sunday.

Characterising Fillon as being "very much different" from world politicians, Putin described him as a "closed up, non-public" individual "at first sight," but stressed that he "can be very tough in standing up for his point of view".

"He's a tough negotiator," Putin mentioned, adding that the former French prime minister is "certainly an ultimate professional, and a decent man."

French media has already started labelling the surprise fore-runner as "Vladimir Putin's friend", but the Russian president pointed out that while he is not familiar with Fillon's rival in the Republican party – another ex-prime minister Alain Juppe – he is open to listening to rhetoric relating to Russia from both sides.

While back in Russia, the candidate is being called a "friend of Moscow", in Germany, media has been mocking Fillon's campaign brochure which shows a divided Germany, 26 years after reunification in 1990.

News channel N24 pointed out that "something is wrong" in the former prime minister's booklet as conservative daily Die Welt noted "the embarrassing error in Francois Fillon's programme".