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Are there two different ways to be "United", or is one simply the more modern usage while the other was used historically in previous centuries?

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Соединённые is historical, used AFAIK only with the US and the UK (Соединённое Королевство, which loses overwhelmingly to Великобритания in frequency of usage. The English term "United Kingdom" dates back to 1707.) As a translation of "united", it would sound "off" nowadays because the word in its current usage properly means "connected", which isn't quite the same thing.

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    in its current usage properly means "connected" I'd rather say "joined". But, yes, "joined" and "united" are still quite different. – Matt Apr 10 '16 at 11:53
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    @Matt More or less the same thing, but I wouldn't put "joined" in this particular answer to avoid creating a potential for confusion. "Joint Chiefs of Staff" is still объединённый, and a "joint venture" is a совместное предприятие – Nikolay Ershov Apr 10 '16 at 13:25
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    The point here being, English doesn't name any entities "Connected" this or that, which mirrors the way соединённый is no longer used as a component of any new formal names in Russian — whereas a form of "to join" continues to be used in this way in English. – Nikolay Ershov Apr 10 '16 at 13:38
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Объединять and its derivatives were not used in Russian before about 1850.

Kostomarov did use it time to time in his works, however, he mostly used соединить wherever a modern Russian speaker would have used объединить:

Итак, вместо того чтобы идти соединенными силами на половцев, Владимиру приходилось идти войною на своих.

Рязанские и муромские князья уже прежде были с Андреем заодно, соединенные войною против болгар

So yes, объединять is just a more modern word.

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