Russian (Soviet) political divisions

Going back to the “Good Ole Days” of the USSR, what was the difference between a Soviet Socialist Republic, an, Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, a Soviet Oblast and a Soviet Autonomous District.

I assume an SSR was awarded to a major group but the Karalians (sp?) had their own SSR and then it was made an ASSR.

I believe the Germans has thier own political group (there was a big colony of them before WWII) but then Stalin squashed it.

The Jews have an Autonomous District but very few Jews live there so what’s the point?

I think Russia still carries on with the oblasts etc.

Oblasts are essentially states.

No, what’s a state in the US was a Republic in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; the most important of the USSR’s republic was the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic, RSFSR (and that’s why you should never call the Soviet Union Russia - there were lots of other nationalities in it).

Altogether, the USSR had 16 Soviet Republics, all of which theoretically had the right to leave the Union whenever they wanted to.

I don’t know details about the subdivisions, but I think oblasts were rather something like counties - comprising several cities but being smaller than a Republic.

If you want to go into detail, this page might be of interest.

Err, I meant in modern Russia. Taken from the CIA World Factbook:

49 oblasts (oblastey, singular - oblast), 21 republics* (respublik, singular - respublika), 10 autonomous okrugs**(avtonomnykh okrugov, singular - avtonomnyy okrug), 6 krays*** (krayev, singular - kray), 2 federal cities (singular - gorod), and 1 autonomous oblast*****(avtonomnaya oblast’); Adygeya (Maykop), Aginskiy Buryatskiy (Aginskoye)**, Altay (Gorno-Altaysk), Altayskiy (Barnaul), Amurskaya (Blagoveshchensk), Arkhangel’skaya, Astrakhanskaya, Bashkortostan (Ufa), Belgorodskaya, Bryanskaya, Buryatiya (Ulan-Ude), Chechnya (Groznyy), Chelyabinskaya, Chitinskaya, Chukotskiy (Anadyr’), Chuvashiya (Cheboksary), Dagestan (Makhachkala), Evenkiyskiy (Tura), Ingushetiya (Nazran’), Irkutskaya, Ivanovskaya, Kabardino-Balkariya (Nal’chik), Kaliningradskaya, Kalmykiya (Elista), Kaluzhskaya, Kamchatskaya (Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy), Karachayevo-Cherkesiya (Cherkessk), Kareliya (Petrozavodsk), Kemerovskaya, Khabarovskiy**, Khakasiya (Abakan), Khanty-Mansiyskiy (Khanty-Mansiysk)**, Kirovskaya, Komi (Syktyvkar), Koryakskiy (Palana), Kostromskaya, Krasnodarskiy*, Krasnoyarskiy***, Kurganskaya, Kurskaya, Leningradskaya, Lipetskaya, Magadanskaya, Mariy-El (Yoshkar-Ola), Mordoviya (Saransk), Moskovskaya, Moskva (Moscow), Murmanskaya, Nenetskiy (Nar’yan-Mar), Nizhegorodskaya, Novgorodskaya, Novosibirskaya, Omskaya, Orenburgskaya, Orlovskaya (Orel), Penzenskaya, Permskaya, Komi-Permyatskiy (Kudymkar), Primorskiy (Vladivostok), Pskovskaya, Rostovskaya, Ryazanskaya, Sakha (Yakutsk), Sakhalinskaya (Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk), Samarskaya, Sankt-Peterburg (Saint Petersburg), Saratovskaya, Severnaya Osetiya-Alaniya [North Ossetia] (Vladikavkaz), Smolenskaya, Stavropol’skiy, Sverdlovskaya (Yekaterinburg), Tambovskaya, Tatarstan (Kazan’), Taymyrskiy (Dudinka)**, Tomskaya, Tul’skaya, Tverskaya, Tyumenskaya, Tyva (Kyzyl), Udmurtiya (Izhevsk)*, Ul’yanovskaya, Ust’-Ordynskiy Buryatskiy (Ust’-Ordynskiy), Vladimirskaya, Volgogradskaya, Vologodskaya, Voronezhskaya, Yamalo-Nenetskiy (Salekhard), Yaroslavskaya, Yevreyskaya*****; note - when using a place name with an adjectival ending ‘skaya’ or ‘skiy,’ the word Oblast’ or Avonomnyy Okrug or Kray should be added to the place name

When I saw the words “Russian (Soviet) political divisions” all I could think of was: [ul][] Alive [] Dead[/ul] :smiley:

The administrative structure of the USSR was complex. Many of the Soviet Union’s administrative divisions were based, officially, on the concept of ethnic self-determination. (I will be using the word “officially” a lot here–there was often a wide disconnect between official statements and actual reality. Officially, the Soviet Union was committed to internationalist socialism, the abolition of ethnic and nationalist divisions, the brotherhood of all mankind, and the state withering away. Officially, the Soviet Union, as a socialist state engaged in the process of building a fully communist, classless society, had a seemingly enlightened policy of self-determination of different ethnic and cultural groups, while at the same time educating the masses to mold them into New Socialist Men who would transcend such pre-socialist anachronisms. Actually, the Soviet leaders–especially Stalin–cynically manipulated ethnic divisions to maintain power, a process continued today by post-Soviet ex-Communist rulers in much of the former USSR.)

All right. Back to “officially”. At the highest level were Union republics, which were the national governments of the major ethnic groups of the USSR. These theoretically had the right to secede from the Union. The USSR was originally formed in 1922 as a federation of four such autonomous (and, “officially”, sovereign) republics: the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, and the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. The Russian and Transcaucasian SFSR’s were themselves federal entitites. The Transcaucasian SFSR was later divided into three Union Republics: The Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian SSR’s. A number of other Union Republics were formed from the what began as parts of the territory of the Russian SFSR in Central Asia: the Kazakh, Kirghiz, Tadhzhik, Turkmen, and Uzbek SSR’s. Other new Union Republics were formed from territory seized in World War II: the three Baltic States became the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian SSR’s (whose incorporation into the Soviet Union was never formally recognized by the United States) and the Moldavian SSR, from territory captured from Romania. There was also briefly a Karelian or Karelo-Finnish SSR, so that for a time the USSR had a total of 16 constituent republics. Karelia was later downgraded to an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR–more on that below), so that for much of its history, the USSR consisted of 15 republics.

Typically, Union Republics were divided into oblasts (regions); oblasts in turn were subdivided into rayons (districts). In the Russian SFSR certain areas were also designated krays (territories). Oblasts, krays, and rayons were not ethnically based, but were simply geographically-based administrative divisions. There were also ethnically-based subdivisions of the Union Republics. The most important of these were the ASSR’s; these were officially autonomous subdivisions of Union Republics, serving as the national governments of ethnic groups which were not large enough to merit having a full Union Republic. (Incidentally, in many ASSR’s–and several SSR’s–the ethnic group for which the republic was officially founded might constite only a minority of the population of the republic.) A Union Republic, an SSR, might be divided into a dozen oblasts and, say, one ASSR. (Thus, the Uzbek SSR was divided into a number of oblasts, and also included the Karakalpak ASSR, the Karakalpaks being a distinct Turkic ethnic group who were never deemed worthy of having their own Union Republic.) Other SSR’s, more ethnically homogenous (like the Byelorussian SSR), were simply divided into oblasts. The smaller republics (such as the Baltic states) were divided directly into rayons.

While several of the other SSR’s included an ASSR or two, the Russian SFSR included a large number of ASSR’s (as well as many non-ethnically based oblasts and krays). There were also ethnically-based administrative divisions with less status than an ASSR; these were found principally in the Russian SFSR, though I believe some other Union Republics included some of them as well. Autonomous oblasts ranked next below ASSR’s in status. Like ASSR’s, they generally were directly subordinate to the Union Republic government; however, in the Russian SFSR, some autonomous oblasts were subordinate to the government of a kray or territory. In Russia, there were also areas called nationality okrugs (usually translated “district”), which were ethnically-based administrative units for smaller ethnic groups, often in remote, thinly populated areas. IIRC, N.O.'s were always subordinated to a larger oblast (regional) or kray (territorial) government.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, each of the 15 Union Republic then existing became an internationally recognized state. Attempts by sub-SSR units to achieve full independence have been resisted (in the case of Chechnya, by force). There has I believe been a certain tendency towards “flattening” of the structure of sub-Union Republic ethnically-based “autonomous” entities; a number of “autonomous oblasts” in Russia and elsewhere have been upgraded to “autonomous republic” status within the now-independent post-Soviet states. Again, in many of these “autonomous” areas the “official” ethnic group is actually a minority of the population, so some of these moves for “self-determination” have less to do with real nationalist movements than they do with power-struggles by various post-Soviet bureaucrats.

Oh, yes–the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, one of the USSR’s more cynical manipulations of ethnic politics, was officially established as the vehicle for the ethnic self-determination of the USSR’s Jewish population. It was an autonomous oblast within the Russian SFSR; however, it was established way the hell-and-gone out in Siberia, on the Chinese border, and very few Jews ever settled there. The population, IIRC, was and still is ethnic Russians and Russified Ukrainians. I believe it still exists as part of the administrative structure of the Russian Federation, and still has almost no Jews.

Stalin, who was the principal author of this whole policy (which seemingly carefully respects the ethnic self-determination of each group in accordance with its various levels of demographic and economic development) had the downright Assyrian habit of deporting entire ethnic groups which displeased him to remote areas of Siberia or Central Asia; he did this to the Volga Germans (who had been living in the middle of Russia for centuries) and the Turkic Tatars of the Crimean Peninsula. Stalin was an ethnic Georgian himself (of the Transcaucasian, not the Peach State variety, of course), but he manipulated Russian nationalism and chauvinism to maintain control over the Soviet Union, especially in the face of the Nazi invasion.

Fascinating explanation, MEBuckner! Tell me, why is it that the Eastern Bloc countries were never formally incorporated into the USSR, as were the Baltic states? Why no Polish, Hungarian, or German SSR? Were there ever referenda in these countries on the question of joining the union? Did the USSR refrain from forcible annexation for fear of Western retribution?

Partly, but it was partly that the Baltic states were part of Imperial Russia before the revolution, which wasn’t true of most of the other Eastern European states, except for Finland and part of Poland (and at the beginning of WWII, the Soviets occupied part of Poland and invaded Finland) So, there was more of a historical link with the Baltic states than there was with, say, Czechoslovakia, which was never a Russian territory.

Great info. But what about Karalea (sp?)? Had they still been an SSR they would most likely be independent today.

Well, Karelia these days is mostly Russian; according to the Britannica, about 70%, and at least some of the rest are Ukrainians and Belarusians who would likely be lumped in with their “Great Russian” cousins in a place like this. Finns and the closely related Karelians are thus only a small minority of the republic’s population. (Karelia is now an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation, the modern equivalent of the old “ASSR” status within the Russian SFSR.) In Latvia by the end of the Soviet era ethnic Latvians made up only about half the population; in Kazakhstan, I believe there were about equal numbers of Kazakhs and Russians, with neither group actually forming a majority of the population thanks to the presence of members of various other ethnic groups. But I don’t think any full-fledged SSR had a demographic gap between its official status and its actual makeup that was quite that extreme. (Karelia was not the only ASSR where the titular ethnic group was in fact a minority of the population.)

The Karelian ASSR became the Karelo-Finnish SSR after the western part of the republic’s territory was seized from Finland in 1940. The Britannica notes that “After a 1947 peace treaty between the Soviets and Finland confirmed the annexation, almost the entire Finnish population of western Karelia moved into Finland”; the Karelo-Finnish SSR was downgraded back to the Karelian ASSR in 1956. So, between 1940 and 1947, the area probably had a decidely more Finnish and Karelian character than it did thereafter.

Here’s some info on the North Caucasus in particular, which has been messier than almost any other part of the former USSR. This is a fragment of an early draft of my (thank God, defended already!) master’s thesis, so as you can imagine, there is much, much more where this came from.

If anyone wants more info, I’m happy to share my sources. And if you really need a cure for insomnia, I’m happy to hook you up with a link to the whole darn thesis, in draft/final versions. Someone might as well read the darn thing besides my committee!

By 1929, Soviet power was basically consolidated throughout the former Russian Empire; the policy of tolerance toward the distinctness of the Moslem peoples ended, and the onslaught against Islam in general and Moslem National Communists in particular began.

This period was also marked by a number of changes in the governmental structure and administrative control of the North Caucasus. The United Mountaineer Republic, which had been formed in 1918 in the aftermath of the Revolution and included the entire North Caucasus, was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1920. After a post-revolutionary name change to the Mountain Autonomous Republic, it was gradually dissolved during the early 1920’s as pieces were broken off to form new Autonomous Oblasts. Dagestan was split off in January 1921 to form the Dagestan ASSR. In September of that year the Kabardian Autonomous Oblast (hereafter AO) was formed, followed in January 1922 by the Karachay-Cherkess AO. Four days later the Balkar Okrug was attached to the Kabardian AO, forming the Kabardino-Balkar AO. In July the Adygey-Cherkess AO was established, leaving only the Ingush and Ossetians in the Mountain Autonomous Republic. With their division into the Ingush AO and the North Ossetian AO on July 7, 1924, the Mountain Autonomous Republic ceased to exist.