The Republics of the Soviet Union or the Union Republics (Russian: Сою́зные Респу́блики, tr. Soyúznye Respúbliki) of the Soviet Union were ethnically based proto-states that were subordinated directly to the Government of the Soviet Union.[1] For most of its history, the Soviet Union was a highly centralized state; the decentralization reforms during the era of Perestroika ("Restructuring") and Glasnost ("Openness") conducted by Mikhail Gorbachev led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.


According to Article 76 of the 1977 Soviet Constitution, a Union Republic was a sovereign Soviet socialist state that had united with other Soviet Republics in 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 (SSRs). All of them, with the exception of the Russian Federation (until 1990), had their own local party chapters of the All-Union Communist Party.

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

In 1944, amendments to the All-Union 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, (as well as the USSR as a whole) to join the United Nations General Assembly as founding members in 1945.[3][4][5]

All of the former Republics of the Union 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. Constitutionally, the Soviet Union was a federation. 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 Federation.

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 Russia 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 decorated with the flags of Soviet Republics

Union Republics of the Soviet Union

Number of the union republics of the USSR varied from 4 to 16. In majority of years and at the later decades of its existence, the Soviet Union consisted of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics. Rather than listing the republics in alphabetical order, the republics were listed in constitutional order, which, particularly by the last decades of the Soviet Union, did not correspond to order either by population or economic power.

USSR Republics Numbered Alphabetically.png
Map of the Union Republics from 1956 to 1991
Soviet Socialist Republic Emblem Flag Region Subregion Capital Official Languages(s) Titular nationality Member
Independence date New Constitution adopted Population
Pop./USSR pop.
Area (km²)
Area/USSR area
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic
(Russian: Российская Советская Федеративная Социалистическая Республика)
Coat of arms of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.svg Flag of Russian SFSR Eurasia Eastern Europe / West Asia Moscow Russian Russian 1922 December 12, 1991 December 12, 1993 147,386,000 51.40 17,075,400 76.62  Russian Federation 11
(Ukrainian: Україна) (Russian: Украина)
Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic
(Українська Радянська Соціалістична Республіка)

(Украинская Советская Социалистическая Республика)

Emblem of the Ukrainian SSR.svg Flag of Ukrainian SSR Europe Eastern Europe Kiev
(Kharkiv before 1934)
Ukrainian, Russian Ukrainian 1922 24 August 1991 28 June 1996 51,706,746 18.03 603,700 2.71  Ukraine 14
(Byelorussian: Беларусь) (Russian: Белоруссия)
Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic
(Беларуская Савецкая Сацыялістычная Рэспубліка)

(Белорусская Советская Социалистическая Республика)

Emblem of the Byelorussian SSR (1981-1991).svg Flag of Belarusian SSR Europe Eastern Europe Minsk Blyelorussian, Russian Byelorussian 1922 25 August 1991 15 March 1994 10,151,806 3.54 207,600 0.93  Belarus 3
(Armenian: Հայաստան) (Russian: Армения)
Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic
(Հայկական Սովետական Սոցիալիստական Հանրապետություն)

(Армянская Советская Социалистическая Республика)

Emblem of the Armenian SSR.svg Flag of Armenian SSR Eurasia Caucasus Yerevan Armenian, Russian Armenian 1922 21 September 1991 July 5, 1995 3,287,700 1.15 29,800 0.13  Armenia 1
(Georgian: საქართველო) (Russian: Грузия)
Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic
(საქართველოს საბჭოთა სოციალისტური რესპუბლიკა)

(Грузинская Советская Социалистическая Республика)

Emblem of the Georgian SSR.svg Flag of Georgian SSR Eurasia Caucasus Tbilisi Georgian, Russian Georgian 1922 9 April 1991 24 August 1995 5,400,841 1.88 69,700 0.31  Georgia
 South Ossetia
Azerbaijan (Azerbaijani: Azərbaycan)
(Russian: Азәрбајҹан)
Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic

(Azərbaycan Sovet Sosialist Respublikası)
(Азәрбајҹан Совет Сосиалист Республикасы)

Emblem of the Azerbaijan SSR.svg Flag of Azerbaijan SSR Eurasia Caucasus Baku Azerbaijani, Russian Azerbaijani 1922 18 October 1991 12 November 1995 7,037,900 2.45 86,600 0.39  Azerbaijan
(Lithuanian: Lietuva) (Russian: Литва)
Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic
(Lietuvos Tarybų Socialistinė Respublika)

(Литовская Советская Социалистическая Республика)

Emblem of the Lithuanian SSR.svg Flag of Lithuanian SSR Europe Northern Europe (Baltic Region) Vilnius Lithuanian, Russian Lithuanian 1940 11 March 1990 25 October 1992 3,689,779 1.29 65,200 0.29  Lithuania 9
(Latvian: Latvija) (Russian: Латвия)
Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic
(Latvijas Padomju Sociālistiskā Republika)

(Латвийская Советская Социалистическая Республика)

Emblem of the Latvian SSR.svg Flag of Latvian SSR Europe Northern Europe (Baltic Region) Riga Latvian, Russian Latvian 1940 21 August 1991 6 July 1993
(Restoration of the 1922 Constitution)
2,666,567 0.93 64,589 0.29  Latvia 8
(Estonian: Eesti) (Russian: Эстония)
Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic
(Eesti Nõukogude Sotsialistlik Vabariik)

(Эстонская Советская Социалистическая Республика)

Emblem of the Estonian SSR.svg Flag of Estonian SSR Europe Northern Europe (Baltic Region) Tallinn Estonian, Russian Estonian 1940 August 20, 1991 28 June 1992 1,565,662 0.55 45,226 0.20  Estonia 4
Moldavia (Moldavian: Moldova)
(Russian: Молдова)
Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic
(Republica Sovietică Socialistă Moldovenească)

(Република Советикэ Сочиалистэ Молдовеняскэ)

Emblem of the Moldavian SSR.svg Flag of Moldovan SSR Europe Eastern Europe Kishinev Moldavian, Russian Moldavian 1940 August 27, 1991 July 29, 1994 4,337,600 1.51 33,843 0.15  Moldova
(Kazakh: Қазақстан) (Russian: Казахстан)
Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic
(Қазақ Кеңестік Социалистік Республикасы)

(Казахская Советская Социалистическая Республика)

Emblem of Kazakh SSR.svg Flag of Kazakhstan SSR Eurasia Central Asia / Eastern Europe Alma-Ata Kazakh, Russian Kazakh 1936 10 December 1991 28 January 1993 16,711,900 5.83 2,717,300 12.24  Kazakhstan 6
(Kirghiz: Кыргызстан) (Russian: Киргизия)
Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic
(Кыргыз Советтик Социалисттик Республикасы)

(Киргизская Советская Социалистическая Республика)

Emblem of the Kirghiz SSR.svg Flag of Kyrgyzstan SSR Asia Central Asia Frunze Kirghiz, Russian Kirghiz 1936 31 August 1991 5 May 1993 4,257,800 1.48 198,500 0.89  Kyrgyzstan 7
Uzbekistan (Uzbek: O'zbekiston)
(Russian: Ўзбекистон)
Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic

(Oʻzbekiston Sovet Sotsialistik Respublikasi')
(Ўзбекистон Совет Социалистик Республикаси)

Emblem of the Uzbek SSR.svg Flag of Uzbekistan SSR Asia Central Asia Tashkent
(Samarkand before 1930)
Uzbek, Russian Uzbek 1924 31 August 1991 8 December 1992 19,906,000 6.94 447,400 2.01  Uzbekistan 15
Turkmenia (Turkmen: Türkmenistan)
(Russian: Түркменистан)
Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic
(Türkmenistan Sowet Sotsialistik Respublikasy)

(Түркменистан Совет Социалистик Республикасы)

Emblem of the Turkmen SSR.svg Flag of Turkmenistan SSR Asia Central Asia Ashkhabad Turkmen, Russian Turkmen 1924 27 October 1991 18 May 1992 3,522,700 1.23 488,100 2.19  Turkmenistan 13
(Tajik: Тоҷикистон) (Russian: Таджикистан)
Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic
(Республикаи Советии Социалистии Тоҷикистон)

(Таджикская Советская Социалистическая Республика)

Emblem of the Tajik SSR.svg Flag of Tajikistan SSR Asia Central Asia Dushanbe Tajik, Russian Tajik 1929 9 September 1991 6 November 1994 5,112,000 1.78 143,100 0.64  Tajikistan 12

Former Union Republics of the Soviet Union

Map Soviet Socialist Republic Emblem Flag Continent Capital Titular nationality Years of membership Population Area (km²) Independent
Soviet Union - Karelo-Finnish SSR (1940).svg Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic
(Карело-Финская Советская Социалистическая Республика)
(Karjalais-suomalainen sosialistinen neuvostotasavalta)
Emblem of the Karelo-Finnish SSR.svg Flag of the Karelo-Finnish SSR.svg Europe Petrozavodsk Karelians 1940–1956


172,400  Russian Federation
Soviet Union - Transcaucasia.svg Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic
(Անդրկովկասի Խորհրդային Սոցիալիստական Դաշնային (Ֆեդերատիվ) Հանրապետություն)
(Zaqafqaziya Sosialist Federativ Sovet Respublikası)
(ამიერკავკასიის საბჭოთა ფედერაციული სოციალისტური რესპუბლიკა)
(Закавказская Социалистическая Федеративная Советская Республика)
Emblem of the Transcaucasian SFSR (1930-1936).svg Flag of Transcaucasian SFSR.svg Europe/ Asia Tiflis Azeris, Armenians, Georgians 1922–1936 5,861,600
186,100  Georgia
Soviet Union - Bukharan PSR (1922).svg Bukharan People's Soviet Republic
(Buxoro Xalq Shoʻro Jumhuriyati)
(Бухарская Народная Советская Республика)
Emblem of the Bukharan People's Soviet Republic.svg Flag of the Bukharan People's Soviet Republic.svg Asia Bukhara Uzbeks
1920–1925 2,000,000 182,193  Uzbekistan
Soviet Union - Khorezm PSR (1922).svg Khorezm People's Soviet Republic
(Xorazm Xalq Sho'ro Jumhuriyati)
(Хорезмская Народная Советская Республика)
Amblem of Khorezm People's Soviet Republic 1922 1923.png Flag of Khiva 1920-1923.svg Asia Khiva Uzbeks
1920–1925 800,000 62,200  Uzbekistan

Other Soviet republics

The Turkestan Soviet Federative Republic was proclaimed in 1918 but did not survive to the founding of the USSR, becoming the short-lived Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of the RSFSR. The Crimean Soviet Socialist Republic (Soviet Socialist Republic of Taurida) was also proclaimed in 1918, but did not became a union republic and was made into an autonomous republic of the RSFSR, although the Crimean Tatars had a relative majority until the 1930s or 1940s according to censuses. When the Tuvan People's Republic joined the Soviet Union in 1944, it did not become a union republic, and was instead established as an autonomous republic of the RSFSR.

The leader of the People's Republic of Bulgaria, Todor Zhivkov, suggested in the early 1960s that the country should become a union republic, but the offer was rejected.[14][15][16] During the Soviet–Afghan War, the Soviet Union proposed to annex the Northern Afghanistan as its 16th union republic in what was to become the Afghan Soviet Socialist Republic.[17]

Unrealized Soviet states

Workers' communes

Autonomous Republics of the Soviet Union

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.

Map Soviet Socialist Republic Emblem Flag Continent Capital Titular nationality Years of membership Population Area (km²) Independent
Volga German.png Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic
(Автономная Советская Социалистическая Республика Немцев Поволжья)
(Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic)
Coat of arms of Volga German ASSR.svg Flag of Volga German ASSR.svg Europe Engels Soviet Germans 1940–1956 606,532
27,400  Russian Federation

The republics at the dissolution of the Soviet Union

Country emblems of the Soviet Republics, before and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Under Mikhail Gorbachev, openness and restructuring were intended to liberalise and open up 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 Communist Party which resulted in reduced ability to govern the Union effectively. The rise of nationalist and right-wing movements, notably led in Russia by Boris Yeltsin, in the previously homogeneously Communist political system led to the crumbling of the Union's foundations. With the central role of the Communist Party removed from the constitution, the Communist Party lost its control over the political system and was banned from operating after an attempted coup d'état.

Throughout the unravelling of the Restructuring, the Soviet government attempted to find a new structure which would reflect the increasing power of the republics. Some autonomous republics, like Tatarstan, Checheno-Ingushetia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea, Transnistria, Gagauzia sought the union statute in New Union Treaty. Efforts of foundation of Union of Sovereign States proved unsuccessful and the republics began to secede from the Union. By 6 September 1991, the Soviet Union's State Council recognized the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania bringing the number of union republics down to 12. On 8 December 1991, the remaining republic leaders signed the Belavezha Accords which agreed that the USSR would be dissolved and replaced with a Commonwealth of Independent States. On 25 December, President Gorbachev announced his resignation and turned all executive powers over to Yeltsin. The next day the Council of Republics voted to dissolve the Union. Since then, the republics have been governed independently with some adopting significantly more liberal policies while others, particularly in Central Asia, retain leadership personnel from the Soviet time to this day.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f 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][7][8][9][10][11][12][13] The Soviet Union considered the initial annexation legal, but officially recognized their independence on September 6, 1991, three months prior to its final dissolution


  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. Taylor & Francis. 2014. p. 56. ISBN 0-415-30153-X. Retrieved 2014-02-18. 
  3. ^ "Walter Duranty Explains Changes In Soviet Constitution,". Miami News. 1944-02-06. Retrieved 2014-02-18. 
  4. ^ "League of Nations Timeline - Chronology 1944". Retrieved 2014-02-18. 
  5. ^ "United Nations - Founding Members". Retrieved 2014-02-18. 
  6. ^ Cite error: The named reference Latvia was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  7. ^ Cite error: The named reference EU was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  8. ^ Cite error: The named reference Court was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  9. ^ Cite error: The named reference UN was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  10. ^ Cite error: The named reference USA was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  11. ^ European parliament: Resolution on the situation in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (No C 42/78) (1983). Official Journal of the European Communities. European Parliament. 
  12. ^ Aust, Anthony (2005). Handbook of International Law. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-53034-7. 
  13. ^ Ziemele, Ineta (2005). State Continuity and Nationality: The Baltic States and Russia. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 90-04-14295-9. 
  14. ^ Elster, Jon (1996). The roundtable talks and the breakdown of communism. University of Chicago Press. p. 179. ISBN 0-226-20628-9. 
  15. ^ Held, Joseph (1994). Dictionary of East European history since 1945. Greenwood Press. p. 84. ISBN 0-313-26519-4. 
  16. ^ Gökay, Bülent (2001). Eastern Europe since 1970. Longman. p. 19. ISBN 0-582-32858-6. 
  17. ^ Soviets may be poised to annex the Afghan North - Chicago Tribune. August 19, 1984. Retrieved on December 10, 2016. "Miraki said then-Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev urged Afghan President Babrak Karmal to win Afghan Communist Party approval for Moscow's annexation of eight northern provinces and their formation into the 16th Soviet republic, the Socialist Republic of Afghanistan. The defector said Brezhnev envisioned the southern half of the country as a powerless, Pa-than-speaking buffer with U.S.-backed Pakistan."
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