President Donald Trump continues to signal the development of a new relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s intentions remained obvious in his interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly before the Super Bowl.

During the interview, O’Reilly claimed Putin is “a killer,” a statement the Kremlin believes Fox News should apologize for. Trump’s response to the incident was to justify Putin’s actions, saying, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?”

Remarks like these are concerning for many people. One retired general, Barry McCaffrey, even called Trump’s response “the most anti-American” statement ever made by a president.

Trump’s comment is certainly far from Ronald Reagan’s famous speech calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire” in March 1983. Anti-Putin activist and Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov took to Twitter to say the president’s statement was “like comparing a surgeon to Jack the Ripper because they both used knives.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, also criticized Trump’s argument of moral equivalence. He rhetorically asked on Twitter: “When has a Democratic political activist been poisoned by the GOP, or vice versa? We are not the same as #Putin.”

Rubio was referring to the many suspicious deaths of Russian journalists, politicians and businessmen. Specifically, I think he was likely pointing to the deaths of people like former KGB agent and Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in 2006 with polonium-210 at a hotel in London. Another example is democracy activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, who has been hospitalized in Moscow from poisoning.

I really am curious as to what Trump means by “killers” in America. I don’t remember the last time a rival politician or journalist was offed by a president in my lifetime.

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Even if there was one, it doesn’t happen on a regular basis. Does he mean people who commit homicide? That’s far different from a government actively seeking out and eliminating all forms of opposition. I think the president needs to do more research to understand the man and the regime he is dealing with.

The man Trump is dealing with, Putin, was the president of the Russian Federation from 2000 to 2008 and returned to power five years ago. In the midst of the 2012 presidential election, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said Russia was “our number one geopolitical foe.”

Then-President Barack Obama responded to Romney’s claim in a debate by saying “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because you know, the Cold War has been over for 20 years.” Only a few years later, Putin annexed Crimea into Russia and intervened in the Syrian Civil War to back a fellow autocrat.

Putin is a former KGB agent and runs his nation with an iron fist. He isn’t on track to reach the levels of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or Mao Tse-Tung, but Putin has created a dictatorship similar to those of the past. He and his cronies reap the rewards while the common people and anyone who stands in his way suffer. He has become a master of propaganda by arresting owners of large media corporations, and having the assets sold to his allies.

On the global stage, Putin is cunning in achieving his goals. During the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he cleverly decided to contact President George W. Bush (the first leader to do so). The move made Bush see him as an ally in the War on Terror, which meant Putin wouldn’t have to worry about international opposition over his domestic actions.

Fast forward eight years and the Obama administration was making similar mistakes. At a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov a tawdry toy red button to “reset” foreign relations with Russia. While Putin wasn’t in office at the time of the Geneva conference, it’s obvious he was still pulling the strings. Putin merely swapped jobs with his prime minister after his presidential term was up, as Russian law requires. It was only a matter time before Putin would return to his old job.

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Putin’s omnipotence appears unmatched in his own domain, but the U.S. cannot let more countries come under his umbrella. Since the Russian Federation intends to re-establish the power of the Soviet Union, the free democracies of the West have a duty to stop him.

Putin’s rhetoric of protecting compatriots or minorities in neighboring countries is a weak justification for his military interventions. Any American president should respond by saying he threatens the existence of new democracies and should work to defend those nations in peril.

Negotiations with the Russians must keep the U.S. and nations that can’t defend themselves protected at all costs. If Putin wants the U.S. to end sanctions, then it would only be fair to ask him to end aggressive actions in Ukraine and Syria. Keeping him contained is of paramount importance. Any deal with Putin must benefit both sides.

It’s time for the president to put his negotiating talents to the task. The entire globe is on his shoulders over the next four years. With any agreement made, Trump has to make sure he avoids a rerun of 1938, when Western leaders were more than willing to accept the false promises of a dangerous dictator.

John M. Graber ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in history and political science.