The conflict embroiling Ukraine right now is in large part economic: The current unrest ties back to a November trade summit, when Ukraine, led by now-ousted president Viktor Yanukovich, rejected an association agreement with the European Union, moving instead toward stronger economic ties with Russia. Ukrainian protesters subsequently marched through Kiev, centering around Maidan Nezaleznosti, or Independence Square, and eventually clashed violently with riot police.
A graphic produced by the Canadian International Council’s OpenCanada.org, a hub for international affairs research based in Toronto, examines Russia’s economic sphere of influence and how economic growth in the region has progressed since the fall of the Soviet Union. It shows gross national incomes for the former Soviet republics in 2012, compared to in 1993, less than two years after the Soviet Union officially dissolved in December 1991.
Obviously, Russia was and still is the powerhouse economy in the region, and the smaller republics pale in comparison. Yet many have seen their gross national income double since 1993. Ukraine began the ’90s with the largest income of the former satellite states, yet it has grown the least since then, only 44%. Compare that to Russia’s 246%, Latvia’s 250%, or even tiny neighboring Moldova’s 65%.
Open Canada doesn’t provide any theories any theories as to why that might be, and the graphic itself is a fairly rough sketch of the situation. All that purchasing power can’t have gone straight into Yanukovych’s palace, right?
Max Ehrenfreund at the Washington Post explains it this way:
There are several reasons for Ukraine’s poor economic performance. One, to be sure, is the gas subsidies, which have allowed Ukrainians to use gas inefficiently and have drained the government’s reserves of foreign currency…Another is corruption: about 50 percent of business in Ukraine is conducted under the table, out of sight of the tax collector.
Now, billions of dollars in foreign debts are looming, and the country doesn’t have enough hard currency to pay them. The New York Times blames the economic decisions made just after the country gained independence:
Ukraine’s vulnerabilities are enormous, partly a result of 23 years of mismanagement since independence from the Soviet Union, when early reforms were quickly jettisoned and the economy was distorted by corruption, favoritism, patronage and outright theft.
So yes, the palace–and the $37 billion that went missing under Yanukovych–may play a minor role.
See more from OpenCanada.org.