In its final decades of its existence, the Soviet Union consisted of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics (SSR), often called simply Soviet republics. All of them were socialist republics, and all of them, with the exception of Russia had their own Communist parties. They are all independent countries now; 12 of them (all except the Baltic states) are very loosely organized under the heading Commonwealth of Independent States.
Constitutionally, the Soviet Union was a confederation. In accordance with article 72 of the Soviet constitution adopted in 1977, each republic retained the right to secede from the USSR. Throughout the Cold War, this right was widely considered to be meaningless, however Article 72 was used in December 1991 to effectively dissolve the Soviet Union, when Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus seceded from the USSR.
In practice, the USSR was a highly centralised entity from its creation in 1922 until the 1980s when political forces unleashed 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.
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 the a full set of states symbols: a flag, a coat of arms, and, with the exception of Russia, an anthem.
The Republics and the Collapse of the Soviet Union
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, peristroika 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 govenment personnel of the former Soviet republics.
Soviet Union in its final state
Sorted by region
Russia is by far the largest in area, it spans both Europe and Asia. Of the other 14, Kazakhstan is by far the largest. Russia is also by far the most populated, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are next, in that order.
See the ranked List of Soviet Republics
Other Soviet republics
Autonomous republics of the Soviet Union
A number of nations had autonomy within the main Soviet republics and called Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics, or ASSRs. Their number and status have been changing over time.
- Buryat ASSR, now Buryatia
- Bashkir ASSR, now Bashkortostan
- Chechen-Ingush ASSR (1936_1944), (1957-1990), now Chechnya and Ingushetia
- Chuvash ASSR, now Chuvashia
- Crimea ASSR, now Crimea (1922(?)-1944)
- Dagestan ASSR, now Dagestan
- Karelian ASSR (1923_1940), (1956-1991) now Republic of Karelia
- Kabardino-Balkar ASSR (1936_1944), (1957-1990), now Kabardino-Balkaria
- Kabardin ASSR (1944_1957) (Balkars repressed), now Kabardino-Balkaria
- Kalmyk ASSR, now Kalmykia
- Karakalpak ASSR, now Karakalpakstan
- Komi ASSR, now Komi Republic
- Marijskaya ASSR, now Mari El
- Moldavian ASSR (1924--1941), now Moldova
- Mordovskaya ASSR, now Mordovia
- Nakhchivan ASSR (1937--?), now Nakhichevan
- North Ossetian ASSR (1936_1990), now North Ossetia_Alania
- Tatar ASSR, now Tatarstan
- Turkestan ASSR (1918-1924), now Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan
- Kazakh ASSR (?-?)
- Tuva ASSR (1961-1992), now Tuva
- Udmurt ASSR, now Udmurtia
- Volga German ASSR (1918-1941)
- Yakut ASSR, now Sakha (Yakutia)
Autonomous oblasts of the Soviet Union
A number of smaller nations had autonomy within the main Soviet republics and called Autonomous Oblasts, or AO.
- 1922 - Soviet Union formed from Russian SFSR, Transcaucasian SFSR, Ukrainian SSR, Byelorussian SSR
- 1924 - Turkmen SSR and Uzbek SSR split from Turkestan SSR
- 1929 - Tajik SSR split from Uzbek SSR
- 1936 - Kazakh SSR and Kirghiz SSR split from RSFSR
- 1936 - Transcaucasian SFSR split into Georgian SSR, Armenian SSR and Azerbaijan SSR.
- 1939 - Part of Poland (known as Kresy, Eastern Poland, or Western Belarus) annexed and added to Byelorussian SSR
- 1940 - Karelo-Finnish SSR created from Karelian ASSR in Russia
- 1940 - Estonian SSR, Latvian SSR, Lithuanian SSR annexed
- 1940 - Part of Ukraine's Moldavan ASSR made into Moldavian SSR along with territory annexed from Romania
- 1944 - Tuva became a part of Russian SFSR
- 1944 - repressions to Caucasus and Crimea peoples, deportations, all AO and ASSR reorganized
- 1945 - Part of East Prussia annexed from Germany and added to Russian SFSR as the Kaliningrad oblast exclave
- 1945 - Wolhynian Voivodship of post-WWI Poland added to Ukraine as Volyn region.
- 1945 _ Kuril islands and the southern part of Sakhalin added to Russian SFSR
- 1945 - Carpathian Ruthenia ceded by Czechoslovakia and integrated into the Ukrainian SSR
- 1954 - Crimea transferred from Russian SFSR to Ukrainian SSR
- 1956 - Karelo-Finnish SSR became the Karelian ASSR in Russia again