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Hopefully, the shaky truce between Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko, brokered in Minsk by Angela Merkel, will hold.

For nothing good, but much evil, could come of broadening and lengthening this war that has cost the lives of 5,400 Ukrainians.

The longer it goes on, the greater the casualties, the more land Ukraine will lose and the greater the likelihood Kiev will end up an amputated and bankrupt republic, a dependency the size of France on the doorstep of Europe.

Had no truce been achieved, 8,000 Ukrainian troops trapped in the Debaltseve pocket could have been forced to surrender or wiped out. U.S. weapons could have begun flowing in, setting the stage for a collision between Russia and the United States.

One understands Russia’s vital interest in retaining its Black Sea naval base in Crimea and keeping Ukraine out of NATO. And one sees the vital interest of Ukraine in not losing the Donbas. But what is America’s vital interest here?

Merkel says a great principle is at stake, that in post-Cold War Europe, borders are not to be changed by force.

But is this realistic?

At the Cold War’s end, Yugoslavia split into seven nations, the USSR into 15. Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, even Slovenia briefly, had to fight to break free. So, too, did South Ossetia and Abkhazia in breaking from Georgia, and Transnistria from Moldova.

Inside Russia there are still minorities such as the Chechens who wish to break free. And in many of the new nations like Ukraine, there are ethnic Russians who want to go home.

When we are warned that Putin wishes to restore the USSR of 1974, and to reassemble that Soviet Empire of yesterday, have we really considered what that would require of him?

To restore the USSR, Putin would have to recapture Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, an area the size of the United States.

To resurrect the Soviet Empire, Putin would have to invade and occupy Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and then overrun Germany to the Elbe River.

How far along is Putin in re-establishing the empire of the czars and commissars? He has reannexed Crimea, which is roughly the size of Vermont and which the Romanovs acquired in the 18th century.

Yet almost daily we hear from Capitol Hill, “The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!”

That there is bad blood between America and Putin is undeniable. And, indeed, Putin has his quarrels with us as well. Yet beyond our mutual distrust, or even contempt, is there not common ground between us?

As the century unfolds, two clear and present dangers threaten U.S. strategic interests: the rising power of a covetous China and the spread of Islamic terrorism. In dealing with both, Russia is a natural ally.

If we could negotiate with neo-Stalinists issues as grave as the Berlin Wall, and ballistic missiles in Cuba, why cannot we sit down with Vladimir Putin and discuss less earthshaking matters, such as whose flag should fly over Luhansk and Donetsk?

Pat Buchanan is the author of “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.”

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