VLADIVOSTOK - Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had “fallen in with a bad crowd” and was pressuring Moscow’s diplomats, four years after the Kremlin gave him an honorary award.

“We have given... Rex Tillerson an Order of Friendship some time ago. But it seems he has fallen in with the wrong crowd and is now steering in a different direction,” Putin quipped while speaking at an economic forum in the far-eastern city of Vladivostok.

Putin made the comments after awarding the Order of Friendship to Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang, remarking on the growth of Chinese investment in Russia.

Putin bestowed the same award on Tillerson in 2013, when he was the chief executive of ExxonMobil. That year the company signed an agreement with Russia’s Rosneft to explore for oil and gas in the Russian Arctic.

But that deal was later compromised as US sanctions on Moscow prevented ExxonMobil from moving forward, and the company was slapped with a fine this year for continuing to do business with Rosneft in 2014.

“I hope that the winds of cooperation and friendship will bring him back on the right track in the end,” Putin said of Tillerson.

“Despite the fact that he is organising raids on our diplomatic institutions, we are resolving critical issues with his former company... in work on the Sakhalin 1 project.”

ExxonMobil owns 30 percent in the Sakhalin offshore project and has had a long-running dispute with Moscow over taxes on profits from the project.

“With these scandals in the background, we have agreed how we are going to resolve this situation... the government will announce this soon,” Putin said.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have plunged after Putin ordered the US to sharply pare the number of US diplomats in Russia, while Washington responded by closing the Russian consulate in San Francisco.