Soviet Union Table of Contents
The central government in Moscow and the governments of the fifteen republics--consisting of fourteen soviet socialist republics ( SSR--see Glossary) and the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic--were joined in a theoretically voluntary union. The republic constitutions and the Soviet Constitution established the rules of the federal system.
The Constitution specified the relationship of the central government to the republics. Article 73 of the Constitution limited the central government to the administration of matters requiring central leadership of the country as a whole: national and internal security and the economy. In entering the union, the republics ceded these responsibilities to the central government bodies.
The governmental system below the central level appeared complicated because it was organized according to the two often contradictory principles of geography and nationality. The administrative subdivisions of a republic, oblast (roughly equivalent to a province), and district (raion) were based primarily on geography. The larger republics, such as the Russian and Ukrainian republics, were divided into oblasts. But smaller republics (the Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Armenian, and Moldavian republics) did not have an oblast administration between the republic and the district levels. In addition, six large, thinly populated regions in the Russian Republic have been designated by the term krai. A krai could contain an autonomous oblast or an autonomous okrug inhabited by a national minority. About 300 large cities and approximately 3,000 rural and urban districts (raiony) made up the next lowest government level. In turn, the large cities were divided into urban districts, or gorodskie raiony. Approximately 40,000 village centers made up the rural districts.
The Russian Republic and some of the other republics also contained administrative subdivisions with boundaries drawn according to nationality or language. The three kinds of such subdivisions included twenty autonomous republics, eight autonomous oblasts, and ten autonomous okruga.
Data as of May 1989