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Republics of the Soviet Union, 1989

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] Historically a highly centralized state, the decentralization and democratization reforms during the era of Perestroika and Glasnost conducted by Mikhail Gorbachev led to the Dissolution of the USSR.

According to the Article 76 of the 1977 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 (SSRs), and all of them, with the exception of the Russian SFSR, had their own Communist parties, part of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

However, the Baltic countries, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, do not consider themselves to have ever been part of the USSR. They 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.[3][4] Their position is supported by the European Court of Human Rights[5], the United Nations Human Rights Council [6], the United States,[7] and the European Union,[8]. In contrast, the Russian government and state officials maintain that the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states was legitimate.[9]

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.

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 collapse. 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. General practice in the republics outside of Russia was that the head of state in a republic was a local official while the party general secretary was from outside the republic.

Each republic had its own unique set of state symbols: a flag, a coat of arms, and, with the exception of the Russian SFSR, an anthem. Every republic of the Soviet Union also was awarded with the Order of Lenin. Two (Ukraine and Belarus) were members of the United Nations General Assembly.


The republics and the collapse of the Soviet Union

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

The republics played an important role in the collapse of the Soviet Union. 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. Finally, perestroika allowed the governments of the republics to control economic assets in their republics and withhold funds from the central government.

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.

Soviet Union in its final state


Republics of the Soviet Union

The Republics of the Soviet Union (1956 — 1989)
Flag Republic Capital Map of the Soviet Union
1 Flag of Armenian SSR.svg Armenian SSR Yerevan
Republics of the Soviet Union
2 Flag of Azerbaijan SSR.svg Azerbaijan SSR Baku
3 Flag of Byelorussian SSR.svg Byelorussian SSR Minsk
4 Flag of Estonian SSR.svg Estonian SSR Tallinn
5 Flag of Georgian SSR.svg Georgian SSR Tbilisi
6 Flag of Kazakh SSR.svg Kazakh SSR Alma-Ata
7 Flag of Kyrgyz SSR.svg Kirghiz SSR Frunze
8 Flag of Latvian SSR.svg Latvian SSR Riga
9 Flag of Lithuanian SSR.svg Lithuanian SSR Vilnius
10 Flag of Moldavian SSR.svg Moldavian SSR Kishinev
11 Flag of Russian SFSR.svg Russian SFSR Moscow
12 Flag of Tajik SSR.svg Tajik SSR Dushanbe
13 Flag of Turkmen SSR.svg Turkmen SSR Ashgabat
14 Flag of Ukrainian SSR.svg Ukrainian SSR Kiev
15 Flag of Uzbek SSR.svg Uzbek SSR Tashkent

Independent nations

  1.  Armenia
  2.  Azerbaijan
  3.  Belarus
  4.  Estonia
  5.  Georgia
  6.  Kazakhstan
  7.  Kyrgyzstan
  8.  Latvia
  9.  Lithuania
  10.  Moldova
  11.  Russia
  12.  Tajikistan
  13.  Turkmenistan
  14.  Ukraine
  15.  Uzbekistan

Other Soviet republics


Soviet Republic Capital
(as of 1989)
Region Population[22]  % Latest (2007 Jul) Chg % Density Area (km²)  % Constitutional Order Independent state
(current flags)
 Russian SFSR Moscow Russia 147,386,000 51.40% 141,377,752 -4% 8.6 17,075,200 76.62% 1  Russian Federation
 Ukrainian SSR Kiev West 51,706,746 18.03% 46,299,862 -10.5% 85.6 603,700 2.71% 2  Ukraine
 Uzbek SSR Tashkent Central Asia 19,906,000 6.94% 27,780,059 +39.6% 44.5 447,400 2.01% 4  Uzbekistan
 Kazakh SSR Alma-Ata Central Asia 16,711,900 5.83% 15,284,929 -8.5% 6.1 2,727,300 12.24% 5  Kazakhstan
 Byelorussian SSR Minsk West 10,151,806 3.54% 9,724,723 -4.2% 48.9 207,600 0.93% 3  Belarus
 Azerbaijan SSR Baku Caucasus 7,037,900 2.45% 8,120,247 +15.4% 81.3 86,600 0.39% 7  Azerbaijan
 Georgian SSR Tbilisi Caucasus 5,400,841 1.88% 4,646,003 -14.0% 77.5 69,700 0.31% 6  Georgia
 Tajik SSR Dushanbe Central Asia 5,112,000 1.78% 7,076,598 +38.4% 35.7 143,100 0.64% 12  Tajikistan
 Moldavian SSR Chişinău West 4,337,600 1.51% 4,320,490 -0.4% 128.2 33,843 0.15% 9  Moldova
 Kirghiz SSR Frunze Central Asia 4,257,800 1.48% 5,284,149 +24.1% 21.4 198,500 0.89% 11  Kyrgyzstan
 Lithuanian SSR Vilnius Baltic 3,689,779 1.29% 3,575,439 -3.1% 56.6 65,200 0.29% 8  Lithuania
 Turkmen SSR Ashgabat Central Asia 3,522,700 1.23% 5,097,028 +44.7% 7.2 488,100 2.19% 14  Turkmenistan
 Armenian SSR Yerevan Caucasus 3,287,700 1.15% 2,971,650 -9.6% 110.3 29,800 0.13% 13  Armenia
 Latvian SSR Riga Baltic 2,666,567 0.93% 2,259,810 -15.3% 41.3 64,589 0.29% 10  Latvia
 Estonian SSR Tallinn Baltic 1,565,662 0.55% 1,346,127 -14.1% 34.6 45,226 0.20% 15  Estonia


  1. ^ Hough, Jerry F (1997). Democratization and revolution in the USSR, 1985-1991. Brookings Institution Press. ISBN 0815737491. 
  2. ^ Federalism and the Dictatorship of Power in Russia By Mikhail Stoliarov; p. 56 ISBN 041530153X
  3. ^ The Occupation of Latvia at Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia
  4. ^ Estonia says Soviet occupation justifies it staying away from Moscow celebrations - Pravda.Ru
  5. ^ European Court of Human Rights cases on Occupation of Baltic States
  6. ^ UNITED NATIONS Human Rights Council Report
  7. ^ "U.S.-Baltic Relations: Celebrating 85 Years of Friendship". U.S. Department of State. June 14, 2007. Retrieved 29 July 2009. 
  8. ^ Motion for a resolution on the Situation in Estonia by the EU
  9. ^ Russia denies Baltic 'occupation' by BBC News
  10. ^ Lak'oba, Stanislav: History: 1917 -1989 in The Abkhazians a handbook by Curzon Press, Richmond, Surrey, 1999.
  11. ^ ::Rrc::
  12. ^ Elster, Jon (1996). The roundtable talks and the breakdown of communism. University of Chicago Press. p. 179. ISBN 0226206289. 
  13. ^ Held, Joseph (1994). Dictionary of East European history since 1945. Greenwood Press. p. 84. ISBN 0313265194. 
  14. ^ Gökay, Bülent (2001). Eastern Europe since 1970. Longman. p. 19. ISBN 0582328586. 
  15. ^ Gunnar Alexandersson, The Baltic Straits (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1982), ISBN 90-247-2595-X, p. 44.
  16. ^ (Lithuanian) Gediminas Zemlickas, Apie Birželio sukilimą ir Lietuvos laikinąją vyriausybę (Interview with Algimantas Liekis on June Uprising and Provisional Government of Lithuania), Mokslo Lietuva, Part I March 9, 2000, No. 5 (207) and Part II April 6-19, 2000, No. 7 (209).
  17. ^ Frankowski, Stanisław; Paul B. Stephan (1995). Legal reform in post-communist Europe. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 84. ISBN 0792332180. 
  18. ^ a b Walker, Edward (2003). Dissolution: sovereignty and the breakup of the Soviet Union. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 64. ISBN 0742524531. 
  19. ^ Pernille Hohnen, Market Out of Place?: Remaking Economic, Social, and Symbolic Boundaries in Post-Communist Lithuania (Oxford University Press, 2004), ISBN 0-19-926762-6, p. 10.
  20. ^ David J Smith, Artis Pabriks, Aldis Purs, and Thomas Lane, The Baltic States (Routledge (UK), 2002), ISBN 0-415-28580-1, p. 61.
  21. ^ Miljan, Toivo (2004). Historical Dictionary of Estonia. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0810849046. 
  22. ^ 1989 Soviet census and World Factbook


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