The independent nation of Ukraine was born on December 1, 1991, when Russia's Boris Yeltsin, Belarus's Stanislav Shushkevich, and Ukraine's Leonid Kravchuk agreed to disband the Soviet Union and create the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Since then, Ukraine's political history (much like its economic history) has been marked by the confusions, contradictions, and conflicts that go hand in hand with state building. Overshadowed on the world stage by its "bigger brother,'' Russia, Ukraine nevertheless has tried to forge its own path in terms of policies, political structure, political culture, and political identity.

The Ukrainian economy has been in a state of crisis since 1992. As an integral part of the Soviet economy, agriculture figured importantly; Ukraine contributed one-fourth of Soviet agricultural production. The military-industrial sector was also vital to Ukrainian output; one of the world's largest rocket-producing complexes is in Ukraine's Dnipopetrovsk. Ethnicity has been an important part of Ukrainian politics--eastern Ukraine has a strong Russian component, while Ukrainian nationalism has its home in the west. However, tensions have not led to confrontations (except for a brief moment when Crimea considered secession).

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