By Patrick J. Buchanan
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,
causing a regime crisis in Kiev. U.S. weapons could have begun flowing
in, setting the stage for a collision between Russia and the United
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.
That is idealistic, but is it 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 the statelets of 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.
Indeed, a spirit of secessionism pervades the continent of Europe.
But while London permitted the Scottish secessionists a vote, Madrid
refuses to concede that right to the Basques or Catalans. And some of
these ethnic minorities may one day fight to break free, as the Irish
did a century ago.
Yet of all of the secessionist movements from the Atlantic to the
Urals, none imperils a vital interest of the United States. None is
really our business. And none justifies a war with Russia.
Indeed, what is it about this generation of Americans that makes us
such compulsive meddlers in the affairs of nations we could not find on a
map? Consider if you will our particular affliction: Putin paranoia.
Forty years ago, this writer was in Moscow with Richard Nixon on his last summit with Leonid Brezhnev.
It was not a contentious affair, though the USSR was then the command
center of an immense empire that stretched from Berlin to the Bering
And when we are warned that Putin wishes to restore that 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 the din 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.
In his eyes, we took advantage of the dissolution of the USSR to move
NATO into Eastern Europe and the Baltic republics. We used our
color-coded revolutions to dump over pro-Russian regimes in Serbia,
Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.
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. China sees Siberia
and the Russian Far East, with its shrinking population, as a storehouse
of the resources Beijing needs.
And against the Taliban in Afghanistan, ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and
al-Qaida, Russia, which suffered in Beslan and Moscow what New York,
London, Madrid, Paris and Copenhagen have suffered, is on our side.
During the Cold War, Russia was in thrall to an ideology hostile to
all we believed in. She had rulers who commanded a world empire.
Yet we had presidents who could do business with Moscow.
If we could negotiate with neo-Stalinists issues as grave as the 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?