Vladimir Putin
File photo: Russian President, Vladimir Putin Alexei Druzhinin/Reuters

Republicans' attitudes toward Russian President Vladimir Putin are warming despite a majority of Americans belief that the nation he leads is unfriendly to the US.

Two polls released Tuesday and Wednesday this week demonstrate sharp divides in opinions toward Putin and Russia in America.

Republicans are fuelling an improvement in the Russian leader's image as positive perception of Putin grew in the party by 20%, from 2015 to 2017, according to a Gallup poll released on Tuesday 21 February.

This is in contrast to 43% of Americans as a whole who see Russia as "unfriendly" toward the US, according to an NBC News poll released on Wednesday. Roughly 18% of the 11,512 people surveyed by NBC even see Russia as America's "enemy."

The Gallup poll similarly saw Americans taking a dim view of Russia, with 70% of the 1,035 people polled across the country viewing Russia unfavourably. A positive perception of Russia grew among some Americans, however, with a favourable view of the country rising from 24% in 2015 to 28% this year, according to the numbers.

The Gallup poll tracked Americans' sentiment toward Russia back to 1995 just after the end of the Cold War. Strong negative opinions of Russia in the US have trended upward steeply since Putin invaded the Crimean region of Ukraine in 2014.

US President Donald Trump has said that he wants to improve relations with Russia, and opinion of Putin has improved among Republicans in line with his glowing endorsements and defence of the Russian leader. Trump made pro-Putin comments throughout the 2016 election campaign and has done so into the early days of his presidency.

When President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russian officials in December – after American intelligence agencies found Putin lead a campaign to influence the US election – Trump called Russia's leader "very smart" for not making a tit-for-tat diplomatic response. US intelligence has linked Russia to the hacking and release of emails from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton's election campaign.

The view of Putin among Democrats has simultaneously fallen 5% between 2015 and 2017, according to Gallup. The NBC poll also shows 76% of those who identify as Democrats holding a negative view of US-Russia relations.