Soviet Union Table of Contents
Since 1956 the enormous territory of the Soviet Union has consisted of fifteen union republics--the largest administrative and political units--officially known as Soviet republics or union republics (see Glossary). Nationality (see Glossary), size of the population, and location are the determinants for republic status. By far the largest and most important of the union republics is the Russian Republic, containing about 51 percent of the population (see table 6, Appendix A). Largely because it encompasses Siberia, the Russian Republic alone accounts for 75 percent of Soviet territory and forms the heartland of both the European and the Asian portions of the Soviet Union. Although in 1989 Russians made up over 51 percent of the Soviet population and were in many ways the dominant nationality, they are just one of more than 100 nationality groups that make up Soviet society. Fourteen other major nationalities also have their own republics: in the European part are the Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Belorussian, Ukrainian, and Moldavian republics; the Georgian, Azerbaydzhan, and Armenian republics occupy the Caucasus; and Soviet Central Asia is home to the Kazakh, Uzbek, Turkmen, Kirgiz, and Tadzhik republics (see Nationalities of the Soviet Union , ch. 4; table 13, Appendix A). The Soviet system also provides for territorial and administrative subdivisions called autonomous republics, autonomous oblasts, autonomous okruga, kraia, or most often oblasts (see Glossary). These subdivisions make the country easier to manage and at times serve to recognize additional nationalities. In terms of political and administrative authority, the more than 130 oblasts and autonomous oblasts resemble to a limited degree counties in the United States. Many oblasts, however, are about the size of states. For example, Tyumenskaya Oblast, the storehouse of Soviet fuels, is only slightly smaller than Alaska (see Fuels , ch. 12). A more appropriate comparison with counties, in terms of numbers and area, can be made with the more than 3,200 raion (see Glossary), the Soviet Union's smallest administrative and political subdivision.
Data as of May 1989