A man sits on a bench near a building destroyed in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

May 09, 2022

Ukraine Shows the Strength of a Free People

Originally published in TIME

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a confrontation of a dictatorship against a free people. The free people are winning in no small part because they are free.

Ukraine and Russia both emerged from the ruin of the Soviet Union with the burden of generations of oppression. Both countries struggled to rebuild themselves as free countries with market economies and democratic systems. Russia’s initial prospects for success might have been somewhat better: President Boris Yeltsin defeated efforts by leftist nationalists and then communists to seize power and return Russia to autocracy. Ukraine’s leadership in the 1990s lacked Yeltsin’s vision and determination.

The two countries’ trajectories crossed in the 2000s, however. Yeltsin gave Russia to Vladimir Putin, who moved rapidly to consolidate power that soon reached dictatorial levels. Ukraine’s politics, on the other hand got messier. The 2004 Orange Revolution showed the Ukrainian desire for honest elections on the one hand. Oligarchs developed economic and political power-bases and struggled for control of the state on the other. Corruption flourished in Ukraine as it did in Russia, but whereas Putin centralized corruption in his hands, Ukrainian corruption decentralized among the competing oligarchs and others. Putin’s centralization made governing Russia easy; Ukraine’s decentralization made governing Ukraine hard.

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