Ukraine Gets Its Chance
Few former Soviet states have fared worse than Ukraine over the past three decades, owing to the country's domestic politics and geopolitical position. But with an popular new president who has promised to crack down on corruption and get serious about economic reforms, Ukrainians are right to be optimistic.
KYIV – Suddenly, opinion polls find that Ukrainians are more optimistic about their future than are citizens of most other countries around the world. That will come as a surprise to many, given Ukraine’s manifold challenges. And yet it is justified by the country’s current political trajectory.
For the first two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was one of the most poorly governed of the successor states. Whereas Russia initially underwent liberal economic reforms and has long benefited from high oil and gas prices, and the Baltic states were admitted to the European Union in 2004, Ukraine was left in the dust. Neighboring Poland’s per capita GDP is now almost five times higher than Ukraine’s, even though the two started post-communist life on roughly the same economic footing.
Although Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution revealed a popular yearning for change, it soon ended in internal disputes and disappointment. By the time the country’s long-held desire for closer alignment with the EU began to materialize politically, a newly ambitious Russia had reemerged to challenge Ukraine’s shift to the West. Making matters worse, Ukraine’s financial situation was a disaster. Endemic corruption and the absence of serious reforms had essentially disqualified it from receiving help from the International Monetary Fund or Western governments, leaving then-President Viktor Yanukovych heavily dependent on the Kremlin (probably much more so than he would have wished).