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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is on the ballot in the U.S. election

Sen. Tim Kaine repeatedly criticized Donald Trump’s admiration for Vladimir Putin and other strongmen. Meanwhile, former Gov. Mike Pence shook his head, saying “Oh, come on,” suggesting such complaints were a distraction from more serious questions raised by former secretary of state’s Hillary Clinton’s record.

But, in discussing the situation in Syria,  Pence said Putin’s Russia was leading his country in a “barbaric” use of force in attacks on Aleppo, Syria. He suggested  a Trump administration would be a more forceful and effective check on the irresponsible use of force by Putin.

Donald Trump’s financial and personal ties to Russia have become a persistent question for the Republican nominee this election cycle. Concerns were first raised following  many publicly shared compliments between Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

They increased over the summer when Trump was quoted questioning U.S. obligations to NATO countries that don’t pay their dues. They jumped again with reports that Trump’s aides and advisers included people with financial ties to Russia.

The concern rose again after the hacking of the Democratic National Committee by groups linked to Russian intelligence – and the subsequent release of damaging documents on the WikiLeaks website. At a press conference, Trump seemed to appeal to Russian intelligence for help finding emails that Clinton had erased.

“Russia, if you’re listening I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing” from the account Clinton used for State Department that was maintained on a private server, Trump said in comments later described as tongue-in-cheek.

Trump’s  former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, resigned  in August after disclosure of his ties to the Putin friendly former president of Ukraine, including being listed in a ledger for payments of $12 million. In addition, Manafort was involved with multi-million dollar business deals linked to former Putin allies. Another Trump campaign adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, attended a 2015 dinner honoring the Kremlin-linked media company, Russia Today, where he sat near Putin.

Recently, one of the first people Trump named as a foreign policy adviser took a leave of absence from his post, saying he had been unfairly criticized in  media reports for meeting with Russian officials during a trip to Moscow in July. The Washington Post previously reported that the aide, Carter Page, had invested in Gazprom, the Russian energy firm and that he had made comments critical of the U.S. while visiting. In announcing his departure from advising Trump, Page said he had sold his Gazprom stock at a loss.

For his part, Trump has brushed aside questions of his of his ties to Russia, saying in a late July news conference: “I have nothing to do with Russia.” A day earlier, he tweeted “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.”

Real-time fact-checking and analysis of the vice-presidential debate