The Devolution of Zelensky

Alexander G. Markovsky

In April 2019, Ukraine was brimming with optimism as it elected Volodymyr Zelensky, a candidate who promised peace, an end to government corruption, and economic prosperity. Fast forward four years: a civil war within the Donbas region turned into a European war raging on Ukrainian territory, destroying the country’s infrastructure, killing hundreds of thousands of its citizens, and creating millions of refugees. Government corruption is an all-time high, and the country is in a state of material poverty.

When Ukraine gained independence in 1991, its national debt was $0.4 billion; in 2018, before Zelensky was inaugurated, it was $76 billion, and by 2023, it had reached $120 billion and kept growing. The country survives on international assistance, and people who four years ago promised “вільна та незалежна Україна” (free and independent Ukraine) proved to be liars and hypocrites.

So, what went wrong in Ukraine? To understand the present, we have to look at Ukraine’s past. Ukraine is a child of Bolsheviks’ geopolitical engineering. Created on the land of the former Russian Empire in 1919 and governed by Moscow until its independence in 1991, it found itself without adult supervision. Its leaders’ understanding of geopolitics, management of risk, and the ability to formulate short and long-term national interests and make meaningful economic and political choices proved beyond their experience and analytical skills.

Ukraine inherited one of the world's largest agricultural and industrial bases from the Soviet Union. Ukraine manufactured tractors, airplanes, ships, locomotives, turbines for hydropower plants, electrical motors and transformers, and a huge assortment of consumer goods. It also manufactured a variety of military hardware, including tanks, missiles, and jet fighters. Its steel mills produced millions of tons of steel, and its coal mines were a major supplier for the Soviet Union’s steel mills and power plants. Having a well-educated population, Ukraine could have become one of Europe's economic powers. Regrettably, inept Ukrainian leaders have plundered most of the Soviet inheritance into disrepair while the ravages of war further erode what remains of this once-thriving legacy.

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