Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Opinion
Leonid Bershidsky

Russia and Ukraine Finally Break Up

Russia's economy hasn't bottomed out. Ukraine has nowhere to go but up.
One team no longer.

One team no longer.

Photographer: Warren Little/Getty Images

Russia and Ukraine have spent most of their post-Soviet history as Siamese twins, but for the last two years they've been undergoing political and economic separation surgery. It will probably be more or less complete in 2016, and though both twins are in for a grim period, the weaker one, Ukraine, has the better prospects in some ways.

Ever since Ukraine declared independence in August 1991, it sought to establish an identity that would set it apart from Russia. Its second president, Leonid Kuchma, even published a book called "Ukraine Is Not Russia" in 2003. In practice, however, Ukraine kept following its bigger neighbor even through its failed Westernization period of 2005 to 2010. It inherited the same basis for its legal system and government -- the Soviet bureaucracy -- and even attempted reforms often imitated Moscow's moves. When I moved from Moscow to Kiev in 2011, I felt no discomfort: Everything, from bureaucratic procedures to the pervasive corruption that made a mockery of them, was largely the same in the two countries.