Republics of the Soviet Union

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Politics and government of
the Soviet Union

The Republics of the Soviet Union or the Union Republics (Russian: союзные республики, soyuznye respubliki) of the Soviet Union were ethnically-based administrative units that were subordinated directly to the Government of the Soviet Union.[1] The Soviet Union was a highly centralized state; the decentralization reforms during the era of Perestroika and Glasnost conducted by Mikhail Gorbachev led to the Dissolution of the USSR.

Overview[edit source | edit]

According to the Article 76 of the Soviet Constitution, the sovereign Soviet socialist states united to become the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Article 81 of the Constitution stated that "the sovereign rights of Union Republics shall be safeguarded by the USSR".[2]

In the final decades of its existence, the Soviet Union officially consisted of fifteen Soviet Socialist Republics (SSR). All of them were considered to be Soviet socialist republics (SSR), and all of them, with the exception of the Russian SFSR (until 1990), had their own Communist parties, part of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Outside the territory of the Russian SFSR, the republics were constituted mostly in lands that had formerly belonged to the Russian Monarchy and had been acquired by it between the 1700 Great Northern War and the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907.

In 1944, amendments to the 1936 Soviet Constitution allowed for separate branches of the Red Army for each Soviet Republic. They also allowed for Republic-level commissariats for foreign affairs and defense, allowing them to be recognized as de jure independent states in international law. This allowed for two Soviet Republics, Ukraine and Byelorussia, to join the United Nations General Assembly as founding members in 1945.[3][4][5]

All of the former Republics are now independent countries, with eleven of them (all except the Baltic states and Georgia) being very loosely organized under the heading of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

However, most of the international community did not consider the Baltic countries, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia to have legitimately been part of the USSR. The Baltic states assert that their incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1940 (as the Lithuanian SSR, Latvian SSR, and Estonian SSR) under the provisions of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was illegal, and that they therefore remained independent countries under Soviet occupation.[6][7] Their position is supported by the European Union,[8] the European Court of Human Rights,[9] the United Nations Human Rights Council[10] and the United States.[11] In contrast, the Russian government and state officials maintain that the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states was legitimate.[12]

Constitutionally, the Soviet Union was a confederation. In accordance with provisions present in the Constitution (versions adopted in 1924, 1936 and 1977), each republic retained the right to secede from the USSR. Throughout the Cold War, this right was widely considered to be meaningless; however, the corresponding Article 72 of the 1977 Constitution was used in December 1991 to effectively dissolve the Soviet Union, when Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus seceded from the Union.

In practice, the USSR was a highly centralised entity from its creation in 1922 until the mid-1980s when political forces unleashed by reforms undertaken by Mikhail Gorbachev resulted in the loosening of central control and its ultimate dissolution. Under the constitution adopted in 1936 and modified along the way until October 1977, the political foundation of the Soviet Union was formed by the Soviets (Councils) of People's Deputies. These existed at all levels of the administrative hierarchy, with the Soviet Union as a whole under the nominal control of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, located in Moscow within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

Along with the state administrative hierarchy, there existed a parallel structure of party organizations, which allowed the Politburo to exercise large amounts of control over the republics. State administrative organs took direction from the parallel party organs, and appointments of all party and state officials required approval of the central organs of the party.

Each republic had its own unique set of state symbols: a flag, a coat of arms, and, with the exception of the Russian SFSR until 1990, an anthem. Every republic of the Soviet Union also was awarded with the Order of Lenin.

A hall in Bishkek's Soviet-era Lenin Museum decked with the flags of Soviet Republics

The republics and the dissolution of the Soviet Union[edit source | edit]

In the final decades of its existence, the Soviet Union consisted of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics and they were called Soviet republics. The republics played an important role in the dissolution of the Soviet Union.[clarification needed] Under Mikhail Gorbachev, glasnost and perestroika were intended to revive the Soviet Union. However, they had a number of effects which caused the power of the republics to increase. First, political liberalization allowed the governments within the republics to gain legitimacy by invoking democracy, nationalism or a combination of both. In addition, liberalization led to fractures within the party hierarchy which reduced Soviet control over the republics. Perestroika allowed the governments of the republics to control economic assets in their republics and withhold funds from the central government. Finally, by December 15, 1991[clarification needed], all 15 republics declared independence.

Throughout the late 1980s, the Soviet government attempted to find a new structure which would reflect the increasing power of the republics. These efforts proved unsuccessful, and in 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed as the republic governments seceded. The republics then all became independent states, with the post-Soviet governments in most cases consisting largely of the government personnel of the former Soviet republics.

Map of the Union Republics from 1956-1991
Republics of the USSR.svg
USSR pop.
USSR area


Flag of Russian SFSR Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic19227008147386000000000147,386,000700151400000000000051.40700717075400000000017,075,400700176620000000000076.62Moscow Russia1
Flag of Ukrainian SSR Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic1922700751706746000000051,706,746700118030000000000018.037005603700000000000603,70070002710000000000002.71Kiev
(Kharkov before 1934)
Flag of Uzbekistan SSR Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic1924700719906000000000019,906,00070006940000000000006.947005447400000000000447,40070002009999999999992.01Tashkent
(Samarkand before 1930)
Flag of Kazakhstan SSR Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic1936700716711900000000016,711,90070005830000000000005.8370062717300000000002,717,300700112240000000000012.24Alma-Ata Kazakhstan5
Flag of Belarusian SSR Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic1922700710151806000000010,151,80670003540000000000003.547005207600000000000207,60069999300000000000000.93Minsk Belarus3
Flag of Azerbaijan SSR Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic192070067037900000000007,037,90070002450000000000002.45700486600000000000086,60069993900000000000000.39Baku Azerbaijan7
Flag of Georgian SSR Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic192170065400841000000005,400,84170001880000000000001.88700469700000000000069,70069993100000000000000.31Tbilisi Georgia6
Flag of Tajikistan SSR Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic192970065112000000000005,112,00070001780000000000001.787005143100000000000143,10069996400000000000000.64Dushanbe Tajikistan12
Flag of Moldovan SSR Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic194070064337600000000004,337,60070001510000000000001.51700433843000000000033,84369991500000000000000.15Kishinev Moldova9
Flag of Kyrgyzstan SSR Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic193670064257800000000004,257,80070001480000000000001.487005198500000000000198,50069998900000000000000.89Frunze Kyrgyzstan11
Flag of Lithuanian SSR Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic194070063689779000000003,689,77970001290000000000001.29700465200000000000065,20069992899900000000000.29Vilnius Lithuania8
Flag of Turkmenistan SSR Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic192470063522700000000003,522,70070001230000000000001.237005488100000000000488,10070002190000000000002.19Ashgabat Turkmenistan14
Flag of Armenian SSR Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic192070063287700000000003,287,70070001150000000999991.15700429800000000000029,80069991300000000000000.13Yerevan Armenia13
Flag of Latvian SSR Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic194070062666567000000002,666,56769999300000000000000.93700464589000000000064,58969992899900000000000.29Riga Latvia10
Flag of Estonian SSR Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic194070061565662000000001,565,66269995500000000000000.55700445226000000000045,22669992000000000000000.20Tallinn Estonia15
  The annexation of the Baltic republics in 1940 is considered an illegal occupation by the current Baltic governments and by a number of Western countries, including the United States and the European Union.[6][8][9][10][11][13][14][15] The Soviet Union considered the initial annexation legal, but officially recognized their independence on September 6, 1991, three months prior to its final dissolution.

Other Soviet republics of the Soviet Union[edit source | edit]

The leader of the People's Republic of Bulgaria, Todor Zhivkov suggested in the early 1960s, that the country should become a Soviet socialist republic of the USSR, but the offer was rejected.[16][17][18]

Autonomous Republics of the Soviet Union[edit source | edit]

Several of the Union Republics themselves, most notably Russia, were further subdivided into Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics (ASSRs). Though administratively part of their respective Union Republics, ASSRs were also established based on ethnic/cultural lines.

See also[edit source | edit]

References[edit source | edit]

  1. ^ Hough, Jerry F (1997). Democratization and revolution in the USSR, 1985-1991. Brookings Institution Press. ISBN 0-8157-3749-1. 
  2. ^ Federalism and the Dictatorship of Power in Russia By Mikhail Stoliarov; p. 56 ISBN 0-415-30153-X
  3. ^ "Walter Duranty Explains Changes In Soviet Constitution," Miami News, Feb. 6 1944
  4. ^ League of Nations Timeline - Chronology 1944
  5. ^ United Nations - Founding Members
  6. ^ a b The Occupation of Latvia at Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia
  7. ^ Estonia says Soviet occupation justifies it staying away from Moscow celebrations - Pravda.Ru
  8. ^ a b Motion for a resolution on the Situation in Estonia by the EU
  9. ^ a b European Court of Human Rights cases on Occupation of Baltic States
  10. ^ a b UNITED NATIONS Human Rights Council Report
  11. ^ a b "U.S.-Baltic Relations: Celebrating 85 Years of Friendship". U.S. Department of State. 14 June 2007. Retrieved 29 July 2009. 
  12. ^ Russia denies Baltic 'occupation' by BBC News
  13. ^ European parliament: Resolution on the situation in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (No C 42/78) (1983). Official Journal of the European Communities. European Parliament. 
  14. ^ Aust, Anthony (2005). Handbook of International Law. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-53034-7. 
  15. ^ Ziemele, Ineta (2005). State Continuity and Nationality: The Baltic States and Russia. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 90-04-14295-9. 
  16. ^ Elster, Jon (1996). The roundtable talks and the breakdown of communism. University of Chicago Press. p. 179. ISBN 0-226-20628-9. 
  17. ^ Held, Joseph (1994). Dictionary of East European history since 1945. Greenwood Press. p. 84. ISBN 0-313-26519-4. 
  18. ^ Gökay, Bülent (2001). Eastern Europe since 1970. Longman. p. 19. ISBN 0-582-32858-6.