What Countries Were In the Soviet Union?

Founded in 1922 as a confederation of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Transcaucasia (including Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia), the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) eventually became 15 republics and a global superpower. Nearly 130 ethnic groups populated the vast country, which spanned 11 time zones.

According to Brigid O’Keeffe, a history professor at Brooklyn College, fears of nationalist revolts by non-Russians led the Bolsheviks in the early Soviet Union to secure the right to national territories, native language schools and cultural organizations while using these institutions to saturate the population with socialist values ​​and practices. “In many ways, the nationality policy of the Bolsheviks worked as intended, in that it helped to integrate non-Russian peoples into the evolution of state, society, economy and Soviet culture,” she says. “But he also relentlessly demanded that the Soviets think of themselves in national terms, and he placed ethnicity at the center of Soviet policy.”

O’Keeffe says that when the Soviet Union broke apart along national lines in 1991, “politicians and ordinary people across Eurasia had been well prepared by their shared Soviet past to chart new, distinctly national trajectories for themselves as independent nation-states”. Some of these former republics transformed into pro-European democracies with a market economy, while others remained aligned with Russia.

Map and flags of the 15 republics of the former ussr.

Map and flags of the 15 republics of the former USSR.

Getty Images

Here’s what happened to the 15 republics in the decades following the disintegration of the USSR.


After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, its preeminent republic endured political dysfunction and struggled to privatize its centrally-ruled economy. As the oligarchs accumulated great wealth, most Russians faced high inflation and supply shortages. A year after the President of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, ended a 1993 constitutional crisis by ordering the army to bomb the country’s legislative building, he launched a disastrous war in the breakaway republic of Chechnya .

Following a ceasefire in 1997, Yeltsin’s government ordered a second invasion of Chechnya in 1999 after Russian authorities claimed bombings in Moscow and other cities were linked to Chechen activists. Then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin led the military response against Chechnya.

On December 31, 1999, Yeltsin announced his resignation and named Putin interim president. Since taking office and serving as president, prime minister and president again, Putin has cemented his authority by controlling the media and removing presidential term limits while political opponents have been imprisoned, poisoned and killed. Seeking to reestablish Russia as a world power and limit Western influence in former Soviet republics, Putin continued the war in Chechnya, annexed Crimea to Ukraine in 2014 and invaded Ukraine in 2022.

WATCH: Biography: Vladimir Putin on HISTORY Vault


Once known as the breadbasket of Europe for its abundant wheat fields, Ukraine accounted for a quarter of the agricultural production of the USSR. Since independence, the country’s politics have shifted between pro-Russian and pro-European governments. In 1994, Ukraine became the first former Soviet republic to peacefully transfer power through elections, and it transitioned to capitalism over the next decade.

After pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych declared victory in a fraud-ridden presidential election in 2004, the peaceful Orange Revolution forced a new vote that was won by pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who applied for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). . When Yanukovych, who went on to win the presidency in 2010, backed out of signing an Association Agreement with the European Union (EU) in 2014, protests in Maidan Street forced him to flee to Russia as a pro-Western coalition took power. A few weeks later, Russia annexed Crimea while pro-Russian rebels launched an insurgency in eastern Ukraine. In 2019,

In a televised address on February 21, 2022, Russian President Putin falsely claimed that Ukraine had never had a stable state and said the country was instead part of “history, culture and spiritual space ” from Russia. A few days later, Russia attacked Ukraine in the largest European military operation since World War II.

“From the Orange Revolution to the Maidan to the extraordinary determination of the Ukrainian people to defend their nation against Russian military invasion, we have seen a sovereign people chart their own course against the backdrop of a complex Soviet legacy,” said said O’Keeffe. “That’s one of the reasons Putin was so obsessed, alarmed and repelled by modern Ukraine as an independent nation-state across the Russian border.”


Soviet remnants such as the KGB and a highly centralized economy persisted in post-independence Belarus. The country’s only post-Soviet president, Alexander Lukashenko, consolidated near-absolute power through a repressive regime that allegedly rigged elections, imprisoned political opponents and silenced the press. A founding republic of the USSR, Belarus resisted privatization and maintains close ties with Russia.


The Moldavian SSR joined the Soviet Union in 1940 after the USSR annexed it following its secret 1939 non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany. After independence, pro-Russian and pro-EU politicians fought over control of Moldova. While political turmoil and endemic corruption have kept Moldova among the poorest countries in Europe, it has moved cautiously towards market capitalism and full EU membership.


Under the rule of Nikita Khrushchev, the Kazakh SSR, which became a republic in 1936, was colonized by Slavic settlers who grew wheat on its grasslands and became the epicenter of the country’s space program. After independence, Kazakhstan privatized its economy, which grew tenfold in two decades due to oil reserves greater than those of any former Soviet republic except Russia.

Proclaimed “father of the nation”, Nursultan Nazarbayev held the presidency for almost 30 years. In addition to suppressing political opposition, the autocrat revived Kazakh culture and engineered the construction of a new national capital, now named in his honor. Kazakhstan has strong relations with the West and Russia, which it has called on to help quell mass protests in 2022 over liquefied gas prices and worsening inequality.

1919 soviet propaganda art, found in the collection of the russian state library, moscow.

1919 Soviet propaganda art, found in the collection of the Russian State Library, Moscow.

Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

The Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

As part of its secret 1939 non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union seized the independent Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and absorbed them as new republics in 1940. After a three-year occupation by the Nazis that left hundreds of thousands of mostly Jewish citizens dead, the suffering in the Baltic continued after the USSR regained control in 1944. Soviets banished hundreds of thousands of people from the Baltic to prison camps and agricultural collectives in Siberia and Central Asia while encouraging large-scale Russian attacks. immigration.

After the fall of communist governments in Eastern Europe, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare independence in March 1990. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev instituted an economic blockade and deployed the Red Army in January 1991 but could not quash the independence movement. A few weeks after a failed coup by communist hardliners in Moscow in August 1991, the Soviet Union recognized the independence of the Baltic countries.

The Baltic states looked to Western Europe as they transformed into stable democracies and embraced market capitalism. All three became full members of the EU and NATO in 2004; Estonia adopted the euro as its currency in 2011, followed by Latvia in 2014 and Lithuania in 2015.

Central Asian countries: Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan

The Turkmen and Uzbek SSR joined the Soviet Union in 1925, followed by the Tajik SSR in 1929 and the Kyrgyz SSR in 1936. Soviet leaders transformed the predominantly Muslim region through the forced collectivization of agriculture, which produced devastating famines in the 1930s, and the encouragement of Russian immigration.

After independence, strongmen ruled these mountainous and energy-rich countries. Although economically dependent on Russia, the former republics allowed US and NATO forces to use their airspace and military installations during the war in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Kyrgyzstan first distinguished itself as one of the most democratic countries in Central Asia after the 1991 presidential election of Asakar Akayev, who embraced liberal policies. However, as the country experienced a steep economic downturn, Akayev became increasingly authoritarian until anti-corruption and pro-democracy protests forced him from power in the 2005 Tulip Revolution. Similar protests led Akaev’s successor to resign in 2010.

After independence, a five-year civil war broke out in Tajikistan in 1992 between communists and an alliance of pro-Western democratic reformers and Islamists. Backed by Russian troops, current President Emomali Rahmon seized power in November 1992 and tightened control by cracking down on political opponents and the press. Plagued by widespread corruption, the authoritarian regime relies heavily on Russia for economic aid.

Fueled by large natural gas reserves that have attracted foreign investment, Turkmenistan has been one of the most repressive of the former Soviet republics. Communist Party boss Saparmurat Niyazov maintained power after the collapse of the Soviet Union and perpetuated a cult of personality in which statues were erected in his likeness and the days of the week and the months of the year were renamed after himself and his family members. After Niyazov’s death in 2006, successor Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov maintained an authoritarian regime.

In Uzbekistan, Communist Party leader Islam Karimov easily won the country’s first presidential election and ruled Central Asia’s most populous country for a quarter of a century until his death in 2016. Karimov’s successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, continued to consolidate power and limit political opposition, while deepening ties with Russia.

What countries were in the soviet union
What countries were in the soviet union

Transcaucasian countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia

After joining the Soviet Union as part of the Transcaucasian SSR, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia became separate republics in 1936. The Soviet regime brought old-style urbanization and industrialization agricultural region.

As the Soviet state weakened in the late 1980s, tensions erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-majority enclave inside Azerbaijan. War between Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted when Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence in 1991. An uneasy peace came into effect after a 1994 ceasefire, although periodic outbreaks of violence have erupted. still produced, including a six-week war in the fall of 2020.

Since independence, soaring oil revenues and contracts with Western petrochemical companies have brought prosperity and corruption to Azerbaijan. While former Communist Party leader Heydar Aliyev and his son, Ilham, have been Azerbaijan’s sole rulers since 1993, Armenia has seen more political turmoil, including the assassination of its prime minister in parliament. in 1999.

Georgia became the first Soviet republic to hold democratic elections in 1991 when Soviet dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia won the presidency. His tenure was brief, however, and a military coup brought former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze to power in 1992. Widespread corruption and economic instability led to the peaceful Rose Revolution in 2003 which ousted Shevardnadze from power.

Secessionist movements in the ethnic Russian enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have led to strained relations with Russia. After Russian forces crossed the border to join separatist fighters in South Ossetia in a brief war in August 2008, Georgia turned increasingly to the West and signed an association agreement with the EU in 2014.

READ MORE: Was the collapse of the Soviet Union inevitable?

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