Ukraine’s Vote, Russia’s Fate

STOCKHOLM – When Ukraine’s voters go to the polls on October 26, not only the fate of their country will be at stake; so will the future of a significant part of Europe. To put it simply: the future of Ukraine will decide the future of Russia, and the future of Russia will have a substantial impact on the future of Europe.

When the Soviet Union collapsed more than two decades ago, and Ukraine opted for independence, many expected the country to do better than Russia in the years to come. But events turned out differently.

During the first decade of the new century, Russia benefited from the combined effect of an old hydrocarbon industry that privatization in the 1990s had made more efficient and high oil prices. The reversal of sought-after economic diversification, and the reduction of “modernization” to little more than a slogan, caused no immediate concern.

By contrast, Ukraine became the worst managed of all the post-Soviet states, with cronyism and corruption thwarting productive capacity, and causing the country to fall further and further behind other post-communist countries in transition. Most notable is the comparison with Poland: at independence, the two countries had roughly the same GDP per capita; today, Poland’s is more than three times higher.