(Bloomberg) -- Russian leader Vladimir Putin refused to be pinned down by a former Donald Trump aide when asked during his annual meeting with analysts to comment on reports that the ex-president may run again in 2024. 

Instead, Putin flipped the script on Christian Whiton, a Center for the National Interest senior fellow who advised Trump on strategic communications, and prodded him to say who he would vote for in a contest between Trump and a Democrat. 

After a long explanation of the tensions between different groups in the Republican Party, Whiton said he’d vote for Trump if confronted with an alternative from the other party. 

“I understand you,” Putin responded with a smile and warm thanks for participating, if only by video link with a translator, in the Kremlin’s annual Valdai Discussion Club meeting in Sochi Thursday. 

Russian intelligence agencies were identified in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference as behind meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to get Trump elected. Putin has denied any involvement and joked with Whiton that if he answered the American could be branded a “foreign agent.” 

The Kremlin has used the foreign-agent label to target independent media, in a move that has forced critical outlets and even a state-owned publication to shut down or conform to burdensome reporting requirements. Putin Thursday defended the rules. 

Putin held forth during the nearly four-hour televised Valdai Club meeting on issues ranging from denouncing Western liberal approaches to gender and sexual identity to Russian conservatism, gas contract prices, climate change as a political tool and the 2020 Beirut explosion that leveled much of the Lebanese capital. 

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