This chapter analyses how Russia and Ukraine emerged from the Soviet experience with different legacies, launched state- and nation-building policies with different goals, and over the last three decades have fundamentally diverged in their political regimes, national identities and foreign policies. Russian and Ukrainian elites who took control of independent states in 1991–1992 came from very different Soviet backgrounds and inherited republics where state building policies were constructed top down in Russia and bottom up in Ukraine (Brudny and Finkel 2011). Putin has built a militocracy and consolidated authoritarian regime where the siloviki (security forces) run Russia. A cult of Stalinism has encouraged Russia’s move away from democratisation. Ukraine built a civic nation-state and a hybrid democracy, and its de-Stalinisation and decommunisation have encouraged democratisation (see Oliinyk and Kuzio 2021).

Since 1991, Russia and Ukraine have pursued fundamentally different nation building strategies. The dominance of great power nationalism since the mid-1990s in Russia has produced a preference for unions and empires over a civic nation-state while Ukraine has focused on civic nation building. Russians believe Ukraine should follow the example of Belarus but, as this book shows, Ukraine was never going to be a ‘Belarus-2’ prior to 2014 while Putin’s military aggression since 2014 makes this even more impossible.