The Republics of the Soviet Union or the Union Republics (Russian: союзные республики, romanized soyuznye respubliki) of the Soviet Union were ethnically-based administrative units that were subordinated directly to the Government of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was 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".
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 acquired by the Russian Monarchy between the 1700 Great Northern War and the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907.
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. Their position is supported by the European Union, the European Court of Human Rights, the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the United States. In contrast, the Russian government and state officials maintain that the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states was legitimate.
In 1944, amendments to the 1936 Soviet Constitution established separate branches of the Red Army for each Soviet Republic. They also established Republic-level commissariats for foreign affairs and defence, 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.
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 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, an anthem. Every republic of the Soviet Union also was awarded with the Order of Lenin.
The republics and the dissolution of the Soviet Union
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. 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.
Other Soviet republics of the Soviet Union
- The Abkhazian SSR, soon after its establishment in 1921, belonged as a contractual republic to the Georgian SSR and by extension to the Transcaucasian SFSR in 1922. Its status was changed to an autonomous SSR of the Georgian SSR in 1931.
- The Transcaukasian SFSR was formed from the Armenian, Azerbaijan and Georgian SSRs. It was divided back to the three SSRs in 1936.
- The Khorezm SSR was 1923-1925, was divided between the Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan SSRs.
- The Bukharan SSR was 1924-1925, was divided between the Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan SSRs.
- The Karelo-Finnish SSR was 1940-1956, was restored to the Karelian autonomous SSR belonged to the Russian SFSR.
The leader of the Socialist Bulgaria, Todor Zhivkov suggested in the early 1960s, that the country should join the USSR as the Soviet socialist republic, but the offer was rejected.
Autonomous Republics of the Soviet Union
Two thirds 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, such as in Checheya, Komi region, Buryatia and Chuckchoi region.
The policy of Glasnost had inadvertently released the long-suppressed national sentiments of all peoples within the borders of the multinational Soviet state. These nationalist movements were further strengthened by the rapid deterioration of the Soviet economy, whereby Moscow's rule became a convenient scapegoat for economic troubles.