WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump defended his embrace of Vladimir Putin Tuesday, saying good relations were important but claiming no one had been tougher on Russia.

“If we got along with Russia, that would be a good thing not a bad thing,” Trump said, days after congratulating the veteran Russian leader on his controversial re-election and suggesting they meet at the White House. “Just about everybody agrees with that, except very stupid people,” he said, adding “probably nobody’s been tougher to Russia than Donald Trump.”

Trump reiterated his long-standing call for better relations with Moscow, despite a series of conflagrations and crises, including Russian meddling in the US election and the poisoning of a Russian double agent on British soil.

His comments came as he hosted leaders from the three Baltic states - which have had a torrid history with their larger neighbor Russia.

Standing side-by-side with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid and Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis, Trump doubled down on his courtship of Moscow. “I think I could have a very good relationship with president Putin,” Trump said. “It’s a real possibility that I could have a good relationship.” “It’s possible I won’t,” he added.

The trio of Baltic leaders came to the White House with what officials described as a series of concrete steps to deter Russian aggression. A senior Lithuanian official who asked not to be named said they would ask the US to send Patriot long-range anti-aircraft missiles more frequently for war games. They also want to become a part of NATO’s larger European anti-missile shield. Trump has spooked many in states that gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union, by cozying up to Putin and by questioning American commitment to NATO.

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday vowed to deploy the military to the border with Mexico, something he described as a “big step.”

Cultivating his tough-on-migration image during a White House meeting with Baltic leaders, Trump said “we are going to be guarding our border with our military” as he lashed out at his predecessor. “President Obama made changes that basically created no border,” he claimed, without elaborating.

Trump has raged at Mexico for allowing around 1,500 demonstrators from Central America to walk toward the US border.

Like each of the last five years, they set off from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas for the US border, where many hope to apply for asylum.

Spurred on by right wing media, Trump has leapt on the “caravan” as evidence of the need for a border wall.

“If it reaches our border our laws are so weak and so pathetic... it’s like we have no border.”

“We need to have a wall that’s about 700-800 miles” of the border, he said.

Trump intensifies assault on the press

US President Donald Trump escalated his attacks on the press Tuesday, with individual journalists and media owners entering the firing line.

After a year-long assault on so-called “fake news,” Trump sharpened his attacks to target non-partisan individuals and firms in an apparent bid to hurt their business interests.

After days of lashing out at Amazon - whose founder Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post - sent the company’s share price tumbling, Trump redoubled his efforts as the market opened Tuesday.

“I am right about Amazon costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy,” Trump claimed a half hour after the opening bell in New York.

“Amazon should pay these costs (plus) and not have them bourne [sic] by the American Taxpayer. Many billions of dollars. P.O. leaders don’t have a clue (or do they?)!”

Amazon has lost several billion dollars’ worth of market value as a result of Trump’s attacks and the tech-heavy NASDAQ index sank 2.7 percent Monday.

Trump also trained his sights on CNN president Jeff Zucker.

“Little Jeff Zuker [sic], whose job is in jeopardy, is not having much fun lately. They should clean up and strengthen CNN and get back to honest reporting!” Trump said.

“Check out the fact that you can’t get a job at ratings challenged @CNN unless you state that you are totally anti-Trump?” he tweeted.

Several journalists who work for CNN said categorically that claim was false. In a statement, the firm also described the accusations as “once again, false.”

“The personal political beliefs of CNN’s employees are of no interest to us. Their pursuit of the truth is our only concern. Also, Jeff’s last name is spelled Z-U-C-K-E-R. Those are the facts.”

Sources working on a proposed mega-merger involving CNN parent company Time Warner and telecoms giant AT&T have repeatedly expressed concern that Trump is trying to put his finger on the scale because of CNN’s impartial coverage.

Trump has publicly attacked the $85 billion merger and his administration has sued to stop it. A ruling is expected sometime this month.

Throughout his business and political career Trump has taken a pugilistic approach to criticism, and has often created a foil as a means to boost ratings of “The Apprentice” or other shows.

A recent Knight-Gallup Poll showed 43 percent of Americans have a negative view of the news media, but more importantly for Trump, that figure is 68 percent for Republicans.

Since taking up the presidency, Trump has strongly favored news outlets that provide glowing coverage such as Fox News, the Daily Caller, Newsmax and Sinclair, a group of almost 200 local TV stations.

Sinclair sparked controversy by recently forcing reporters to read a script about “fake stories” in the mainstream media.

Trump on Tuesday defended the company.

“The Fake News Networks, those that knowingly have a sick and biased AGENDA, are worried about the competition and quality of Sinclair Broadcast,” he claimed.

As Trump has worked hard to create a parallel news ecosystem for supporters, he has largely avoided answering substantive questions from mainstream journalists.

His first and only solo press conference was in February 2017.

In their first years in office president Barack Obama held seven solo press conferences, George W. Bush held four and Bill Clinton held 11, according to the American Presidency Project.

As November elections approach that could see Democrats take control of Congress - and dramatically increase the chances of Trump’s impeachment - the president’s team has gone further on the offensive.

He has attacked Robert Mueller’s investigation into campaign collusion with Russia, attacked the FBI and tried to steer the Justice Department toward investigating opponents.

On Monday his 2020 re-election campaign manager Brad Parscale called for the White House to withdraw credentials for CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, after he asked the president a question at an Easter event. Parscale claimed the question in that context was “disrespectful”.