The USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) already died on December 26, 1991, after a very brief existence, giving way to an evanescent CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States). There were 15 USSR countries between 1956 and 1991.
This structure bringing together the former member republics of the USSR, with the exception of the Baltic countries and Georgia, was founded in Alma-Ata (Kazakhstan) by representatives of eleven former republics. In 1993, Georgia gave in to pressure from Moscow and joined the CIS. The latter has failed neither to acquire solid institutions, nor to put in place a common security policy, nor to organize commercial exchanges within the zone. It constitutes an empty shell aimed at preserving the influence of Russia on the former republics of the USSR.
Existence of USSR
The USSR existed from December 30, 1911 to December 25, 1991. It was a federal state made up of 15 republics, which also made it the largest state in the world. By force of circumstance, it was also a largely multi-ethnic state, although the Russians were the majority group and present in all the republics. However, each of these was composed of a so-called “titular” “nationality”: Armenians in Armenia, Azerbaijanis or Azeris in Azerbaijan, Belarusians in Belarus, Estonians in Estonia, Georgians in Georgia, etc. This transnational state was governed by the Communist Party, in particular by its executive office: the Politburo.
Russian served as the official language of the Union
In the USSR, Russian served as the official language of the Union, although this status was never recognized in the Soviet Constitution. In fact, Russian has become the language of communication between all the components of this immense empire of 285 million people (before 1991) comprising some 130 national languages. In short, Russian, having never been formally declared an official language either by the Union or by any republic, not even in the Russian Republic (1978), has always enjoyed the status of de facto official language. Russian was necessarily the language of inter-ethnic communication.
The breakup of the Soviet Union and the formation of the CIS: Commonwealth of Independent States
The breakup of the USSR resulted in 1991 in the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), including nine of the former Soviet republics.
At present the CIS unites: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.
Country of the Union Republics between 1956 and 1991
1. Russian RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic)
2. Ukrainian SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic)
3. Byelorussian SSR
4. Uzbek SSR
5. Kazakh SSR
6. Georgian SSR
7. Azerbaijan SSR
8. Lithuanian SSR
9. Moldavian SSR
10. Latvian SSR
11. Kirghiz SSR
12. Tajik SSR
13. Armenian SSR
14. Turkmen SSR
15. Estonian SSR
Map of the Union Republics from 1956 to 1991, as numbered by the Soviet Constitution: 1 Russia, 2 Ukraine, 3 Belarus, 4 Uzbekistan, 5 Kazakhstan, 6 Georgia, 7 Azerbaijan, 8 Lithuania, 9 Moldova, 10 Latvia, 11 Kyrgyzstan, 12 Tajikistan, 13 Armenia, 14 Turkmenistan, 15 Estonia. USSR Republics Numbered Alphabetically.png: Aris KatsarisSoviet Socialist Republics numbered by the Soviet constitution.png: WPKUSSR map.svg: Saul ipderivative work: Master Uegly, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Here are the fifteen Republics resulting from the decomposition of the USSR in 1990-1991:
The Russian Federation
The Russian Federation, which emerged in 1991 from the break-up of the Soviet Union, remains the largest country on the planet (17 million km2) but also one of the least dense (7 inhabitants per km2)! Its population amounted in 2007 to 140 million inhabitants. Its subsoil is rich in hydrocarbons and minerals (coal, iron, nickel…).
Russia is also a very heterogeneous Federation, a reminder of the Tsarist conquests, begun in the 16th century from Moscow to the four cardinal points, to the Pacific Ocean. Today it comprises 89 “territorial entities” with varying statuses, Republics, regions, autonomous territories, cities (Moscow and Saint-Petersburg).
Although 80% of the population defines itself at the beginning of the 21st century as Orthodox, Russia brings together ethnically and religiously very diverse populations; the number of federated “nationalities” can be estimated at more than 120. The North Caucasus region, comprising Ingushetia, Dagestan and Chechnya, is Muslim and shares a tradition of brotherly Islam. There are also Jewish, Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant minorities. Among the minority ethnic groups, there are Tatars (Turkish-Mongolian origin), Yakuts and Ukrainians.
Other Slavic States
A vast country in Eastern Europe (600,000 km2), Ukraine shares its borders with Russia, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. In 2014, it had 45 million inhabitants. The country extends over the fertile “black lands” (chernozem). The Ukrainian subsoil contains important deposits of iron.
It was in Ukraine, around kyiv, that the first Russian state was born in the 9th century. Its foundation is due to the Varangians, invaders from Scandinavia and cousins of the Normans! He became a Christian following the conversion of Prince Vladimir in 988 according to the Byzantine rite. One of her descendants, Anne of kyiv (or of Russia), became queen of France by marrying the Capetian king Henry I. This embryonic Russia, with a prosperous peasantry and booming merchant activities, had nothing to envy the West. But around 1240, it was ruined by the Mongol invasions and the peasants fell back into the most vile serfdom. The region never fully recovered from this disaster.
In the following centuries it came under the influence of Poland and Lithuania. In 1667, it was divided between Poland and Russia, by the Treaty of Androussovo. The eastern part of Ukraine became the autonomous state of the Cossacks, placed under the protectorate of the tsars. At the end of the 18th century, the partition of Poland caused a large portion of present-day Ukraine to fall under Austrian domination.
In the early 1920s, Ukraine was abruptly integrated into the Soviet Union. Millions of Ukrainians perished in the great famines of the 1920s and 1930s, planned by the Soviet regime. As if that were not enough, the Nazis imposed a very harsh occupation regime on the country from 1941 to 1945.
In 1991, Ukraine proclaimed its independence and then joined the CIS. However, it is still home to a strong Russian-speaking minority, in its eastern part and in Crimea. The great Black Sea peninsula, attached to Ukraine in 1954 on Khrushchev’s initiative, was re-annexed unilaterally by Russia sixty years later. For strategic and even more so historical and sentimental reasons, Ukraine’s great neighbor is keen to keep this country which it considers its cradle within its zone of influence.
– Belarus, or Belarusia
Belarus, formerly called Belarus (in Russian: “White Russia”) is landlocked between the Baltic countries, Poland, Ukraine and Russia. Between the 9th and 13th centuries, this territory was part of the “Rus”, the prototype of Russia formed around kyiv. He then underwent a strong Polish influence. At the end of the 18th century, the partition of Poland made him fall into the Russian hands. In the 1920s, Belarus became one of the republics of the USSR.
Independent since 1991 without having been so before, Belarus has been ruled unchallenged since 1994 by President Lukashenko. The last dictatorship in Europe, it maintains very close ties with Russia and is the only country in Europe not to seek membership of the European Union.
This region of Central Asia is said to be the cradle of the Turkish people. A crossroads between Asia, the Middle East and Europe, it has always seen a great diversity of populations live together. In 1918 was created an ephemeral Republic of Turkestan, attached to Russia, which included Central Asia with the exception of the steppes of Kazakhstan.
Between 1924 and 1936, the borders of Central Asia were redrawn and five Soviet republics created on ethnic and geographical bases: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. They all acquired their independence in 1991, when the USSR broke up, without their people having clearly expressed a desire for it.
In these five states, the Sunni religion is the majority, but the weight of ethnic and religious minorities varies from one state to another, although the trend seems to be everywhere towards the ethnicization of political life, to the benefit of majority groups. .
Kazakhstan, vast and sparsely populated (approximately 16 million inhabitants for 2.7 million km2), has a strong Russian and Christian minority in the “virgin lands” of the north (these are cleared and cultivated steppes in the 1950s). The Slavs make up around a third of the population, compared to half of the Turkic and traditionally nomadic Kazakhs. The region was Islamized in the 9th century and ravaged by the Mongols of Genghis Khan in the 13th century. Integrated into the Russian Empire during the 19th century, it was used as a land of deportation by Stalin.
More populated than its large neighbor and rich in oil and natural gas, Uzbekistan preserves in Samarkand and Bukhara the memory of Tamerlane and the Iranian-Mongolian civilization. The country was an important stop on the Silk Road, between China and Europe. Since the country’s independence in 1991, President Islam Karimov has seized power there.
Made up of infertile plateaus, Tajikistan was separated from Uzbekistan in 1929 to form a federated republic of the USSR in its own right. This creation cut the country off from Samarkand and Bukhara, the former great centers of Persian culture in Central Asia, while Tajikistan is populated by a majority of Tajiks, Iranian-speaking Muslims, as opposed to Turkmens, Uzbeks, Kazakhs and Turkic speaking Kyrgyz. Between 1992 and 1996, a civil war for access to power tore the country apart, between neo-communist power, democrats and Islamists.
Turkmenistan has about 5 million inhabitants, 75% of whom are Turkmen. The Karakum Desert covers three quarters of its area. On the international scene, he chose to adopt a posture of “perpetual neutrality” after his accession to independence, while at home the country went from Soviet rule to an authoritarian one-party presidential system, led by President Niyazov.
Kyrgyzstan, populated by a small majority of Kyrgyz and a third of Russians, is a mountainous country that has sometimes even been nicknamed “the Switzerland of Central Asia”. It is also the country which best resisted the authoritarian slope after the collapse of the USSR.
A small state in Eastern Europe wedged between Romania and Ukraine (33,000 km2, 4 million inhabitants), Moldova is populated by two thirds of “native” Moldovans (very close cousins of the Romanians) and Ukrainian, Russian and Gagauz (Turkish-speaking) minorities.
Territory of the Dacians like present-day Romania, Moldavia was conquered by Emperor Trajan at the beginning of the 2nd century AD. In the middle of the 14th century, the King of Hungary Louis I of Anjou created the Marche de Moldavie, a buffer region intended to protect Transylvania from the incursions of the Tatars. Moldavia freed itself from Hungarian rule under the reign of King Bogdan but fell in the middle of the 16th century under the domination of the Ottoman Empire, of which it became a vassal state. From the end of the 17th century it was under a double Ottoman and Russian protectorate. Tsarist Russia appropriates in particular the territory of Bessarabia.
In 1924, the Soviets gave birth to a Republic of Moldavia, attached to Ukraine. From 1941 to 1944, it was occupied by Romania, an ally of Nazi Germany. Recovered by the USSR, the territory underwent intense “Russification”, with the installation of many Russians and Ukrainians.
In 1989, the awakening of national sentiment led to major demonstrations whose demands focused on the defense of the Moldavian language and cultural identity. In 1991, Moldova declared its independence. The Russian speakers proclaim their own state, the “Republic of the Dniester”, in Transnistria, in the east of the country. The Moldovan army fails to regain control. Since 1991, this secessionist republic protected by the Russian army has embodied Moscow’s desire to preserve its zone of influence in the region.
The Caucasus, a mountain range that stretches between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, is shared between various entities of the Russian Federation and three countries of the former USSR: Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The latter, although very different from each other in their history and culture, were integrated from 1920 to 1936 into an ephemeral Soviet Republic of Transcaucasia.
This region, which almost forms an isthmus between two seas, has always been coveted by empires, whether Persian, Roman, Ottoman, Iranian or Russian. Since the 19th century, rivalries in the region have been fueled by a surge of fever surrounding the oil fields of the Caspian Sea (about 5% of world reserves).
This rugged Caucasian state is home to around 3 million people. Abroad, a diaspora at least as large numerically remains attached to this country with its history and culture spanning several millennia. Today’s Armenia covers a much more limited territory than historic Armenia which extended over lands that are now Turkish and Iranian.
From the period of the 9th to the 6th centuries BC, Armenia, in the form of the kingdom of Van or Urartu, constituted an advanced civilization, equipped with writing, fortresses, an irrigation system and craftsmen working with talent in gold, silver and bronze.
The region was converted to Christianity at the end of the 3rd century and was the first state to adopt it as its official religion. It was successively invaded by the Romans, the Arabs, the Parthians, the Turks and the Mongols.
From the 14th century it fell under Ottoman domination. In 1915, the genocide perpetrated by the Turkish power claimed the lives of approximately 1.5 million Armenians. The independent republic of Armenia proclaimed in 1918 was only of short duration: in 1922, Armenia was integrated into the USSR. It only gained independence again in 1991, when the USSR dissolved.
The question of the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, populated mainly by Armenians but attached to Azerbaijan in the 1920s and controlled by Armenia since 1994, continues to poison its relations with its eastern neighbor.
This small country in the Caucasus, on the Caspian Sea, is home to approximately 8.5 million inhabitants (2008), 80% of whom are Azeris. These Muslims speak a language close to Turkish and are mostly Shiites. Its subsoil is rich in oil and gas.
Integrated into the Russian Empire in 1828, Azerbaijan briefly became an independent republic in 1918. In 1922, it was integrated into the Transcaucasian Federation and the USSR. The autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh, populated mainly by Armenians, is attached to it.
In the 1980s, the policy of glasnost led by Gorbachev encouraged Armenians to demand the attachment of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. The Soviet government refused this perspective but anti-Armenian pogroms, fueled by the awakening of Azeri nationalism, shook Azerbaijan and its capital Baku. In 1990, Armenia proclaimed the attachment of Nagorno-Karabakh to its territory. Azerbaijan is once again ablaze with an outbreak of anti-Armenian violence. The Red Army intervenes brutally in Baku to restore order (“Black January”).
In 1991, taking note of the dislocation of the USSR, the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan declared the independence of the country which joined the CIS. In 1994, the Armenians took control of Nagorno-Karabakh. Since then, a precarious status quo has prevailed, emblematic of the “frozen conflicts” that weaken post-Soviet countries.
Landlocked to the west of the Caucasus, on the shores of the Black Sea, on the borders of Europe and Asia, Georgia is a small country of 70,000 km2 and 4 million inhabitants whose history goes back more than 3000 years. The Greeks, who knew it as Colchis, place the adventure of Jason and the Argonauts there in search of the Golden Fleece…
By clumsily trying to restore its sovereignty over the secessionist territory of South Ossetia, in August 2008, Georgia fell back under Russian tutelage.
The Baltic States
Lithuania is the most populated of the Baltic States (approximately 3.5 million inhabitants) shares its borders with Latvia, Poland, Belarus and Russia (enclave of Kaliningrad). It also has a seafront, on the Baltic Sea. Its population is over 80% ethnic Lithuanians and minorities of Poles and Russians.
A small state overlooking the Baltic Sea, Latvia’s main natural resource is its forests, which have allowed the development of a wood and paper industry. Today, however, the country is highly urbanized and industrialized.
Latvia is home to a large Russian minority, making up about a third of the population. The Lutheran religion is the majority there, although Catholics and Orthodox are also numerous. The region had been occupied by a people of Finno-Ugric origin since the 3rd millennium BC. In 1158, German merchants of the Hanseatic League created the trading post of Riga, at the mouth of the Daugava river. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the Sword-bearing knights invaded the country and introduced Christianity… without excessive mildness.
At the beginning of the 17th century, Protestant Sweden and Catholic Poland-Lithuania disputed the territory of Latvia. Victory went to Sweden, but it did not prevent the region from being integrated into the Russian Empire a century later, following the conquests of Peter I. Latvia declared its independence in 1918 but was annexed by the USSR in 1940, then occupied by Nazi Germany after the rupture of the German-Soviet pact. Once again a Soviet republic in 1944, it again proclaimed its independence in 1991.
Populated by 60% ethnic Estonians and 30% Russians, Estonia is close to Finland, from which it is only separated by a narrow inlet and with which it shares the Finno-Ugric linguistic stock.
The region was first on the trade routes of the Vikings, towards the Byzantine Empire and Russia, then on those of the German Hanseatic League. It was conquered by the German sword-bearing knights, then passed under Swedish domination (early 17th century), before being integrated into the Russian empire.
Like its Latvian and Lithuanian neighbors, it was annexed by the USSR in 1940, under the German-Soviet pact, then occupied by Germany until 1944. Soviet Republic from 1944 to 1991, it again acceded to the independence during the collapse of the USSR. Like Latvia and Lithuania, it has been a member of the European Union since May 2004.