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Story highlights

Trump returns the compliment from the Russian leader

Calls for decreased US involvement in the Ukrainian conflict

(CNN) —  

Donald Trump on Friday praised Vladimir Putin and appeared to defend the autocratic Russian president when pressed about his alleged killing of journalists and political opponents critical of his rule.

One day after Putin called Trump a “bright and talented” and the “absolute leader of the presidential race,” the Republican presidential front-runner returned the compliments, hailing Putin as a “leader” and pointing to his high favorability numbers in Russia.

“He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” Trump said when asked by “Morning Joe” Republican host Joe Scarborough about Putin’s alleged killing of journalists and political opponents.

“I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, a lot of killing, a lot of stupidity,” he said.

Finally, when asked whether he would condemn Putin’s alleged brutal tactics, Trump responded: “Sure, absolutely.”

Trump noted that Putin had called him smart, which Trump said is “always good, especially when the person heads up Russia.”

READ: Putin praises ‘bright and talented’ Trump

While Republicans have hammered President Barack Obama for failing to do enough to halt Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, Trump called for decreased U.S. involvement in the Ukrainian conflict.

“I think maybe we should do a little following and let the neighbors take a little bit more of an active role in the Ukraine,” Trump said, calling for European countries like Germany to take the lead, despite Germany’s deep involvement in brokering a political settlement to the conflict in Ukraine.

Trump also suggested that as president he would herald a new era of relations between the U.S. and Russia, which have plummeted to levels not seen since the Cold War, experts say.

OPINION: Why Putin praised Trump

Trump pointed to his experience as a dealmaker and said that while some see Russia as a problem for the United States – most in the Republican Party have described Russia as the U.S.’s top global adversary – Trump said one “could also see Russia being a really big asset to our country.”

“A lot of good things could happen with Russia if we get along with Russia and if they respect us,” Trump said. “Putin doesn’t respect our president.”