Ever since the inception of the Soviet Union, the central government continued to maintain the existence of national republics such as the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic.

What was the reason behind that decision? Why didn't they attempt to completely assimilate the local peoples?

  • 2
    How could they have done that? Not easy to assimilate a nation without genocide or deportations…
    – o0'.
    Feb 10, 2015 at 13:28
  • 4
    Are you asking about culturally assimilating the people or about erecting a unitary political structure, as opposed to the ostensibly federal structure of the USSR which was actually adopted? Feb 10, 2015 at 13:41
  • 3
    @Felix I'm asking why the federal republics were created based on ethnic lines, as this could obviously facilitate independence movements. Eventually the Union did collapse precisely along the borders created back in the beginning. Feb 10, 2015 at 14:27
  • 5
    My bet: it won some goodwill among peoples who had opposed the Tzarist russification efforts, was more in line with a "people's party", and most probably they thought they could crush any independentist movement that could appear based on that; since the political police would obey orders from Moscow.
    – SJuan76
    Feb 10, 2015 at 17:34
  • 4
    @Lohoris which is exactly what the Soviets did for decades. Especially in the Caucasus millions of locals were slaughtered or deported to Siberia to be replaced with native Russians who were deemed more politically reliable.
    – jwenting
    Feb 24, 2015 at 20:30

4 Answers 4


During the Russian Revolution and ensuing Russian Civil War the Czarist empire broke apart completely, many countries becoming independent. The new Bolshevik government did not "inherit" the empire from the Czar, they had to recreate it by military conquest. Many parts, like Finland, for example, became completely independent and never came under the control of the Bolsheviks. Others, they found more convenient to invite into the "Union", rather than try to attack and conquer them by military force. The Bolsheviks had their hands full fighting the Whites and the Czechs. The last thing they needed was to antagonize distant countries by attacking them. For this reason they tempted the many "Republics" to join them voluntarily and offered very lenient terms and high levels of autonomy. Of course, many years later Stalin would reduce their autonomy and make them into subject provinces, but this is not the way it was originally.


The creation of up to 15 Soviet Republics was just a consequence of the decision made on 29 December 1922 to keep the 4 already existing republics. After that point, it would seem unjust and provoking not to add the next 11 it they served the same purpose as the original 4. (Also, there were many more autonomous republics.)

These four original republics of the Soviet Union (Russian, Ukrainian, Transcaucasian, Belorussian), were not created artificially by a central authority, they created themselves.

The Bolshevik coup d'etat would never have succeeded without people's support. It was the Czarist ("White") thing to fight for the empire, to subdue other nations, to rule them, to forbid them their own language or customs, to turn them into Russians (russification). This became extremely unpopular, and Bolsheviks (as well as virtually all anti-czarists establishments) boldly rejected all these practices; they would never have won if they hadn't. The Bolshevik party itself was without regard to nationality: people in the highest ranks apparently could be Georgians or Jews despite the politics happening mostly in Russian cities.

As local governments or armies emerged, no one was forbidden to speak local languages, so naturally internal borders appeared - the linguistic and geographical ones. They quickly caused the formation of separate republics.

This natural flow of events was later consciously supported by Lenin, who called it korenizatsiya (rooting-in).

At the end I have a rather long example showing the Soviet sensitivity to various nationalisms: the war of conquest. See, Red Army was not an imperialist conqueror. Seemingly there was no case, as long as the Soviet Union existed, when it did officially state anything like "every nation wants to expand as much as possible, therefore we take this land now for us". (Two times they were pretty close to saying that, but still kept a thin veil of some sort: Japan and Poland.) So how did the Soviet Union expand in all the directions? For example, Finland. Sarcasm warning. Did you think that Finland was invaded by Soviet Union in 1939? Wrong - that would be imperialist and thus unthinkable. Instead, the official line went that the Soviet Union firstly supported the Finnish politicians in creating their own socialist government (government in exile, made by the Fins for the Fins). Secondly, the new Finnish Soviet government urged the Finnish workers to liberate themselves from oppression of capitalists and imperialists. Thirdly, the Soviet Finnish government requested military help from all friendly nations (read: Soviet Union), but even then these nations hesitated to initiate hostilities, as it would be a form of aggression. Fourthly, the silly "White-Finnish" troops attacked a random innocent Soviet village. Ah, finally! Only then could the Red Army come (actually it was quite close and in a huge concentration, phew) and assist the new Soviet Finnish country in their struggle to liberate themselves. If the liberation succeeded, the stated reasons would inevitably cause the establishment of a Finnish Socialistic Soviet Republic, which would maybe decide by itself to join USSR.

The points to note here are the many precautions of the communists against putting themselves anywhere near the old Russian-centric imperialism; and to show they treat all nations equally. While in case of Finland all of this was staged, in earlier case of Ukraine all of this was true; most importantly, in all cases the stories were much emphasized by Soviet media.

  • 6
    [A]ll of this was staged has a familiar ring to it.
    – andy256
    Feb 11, 2015 at 0:00
  • 3
    -1 "no country was officially invaded by Red/Soviet Army" Seriously?
    – Joe
    Feb 11, 2015 at 4:04
  • 16
    @Joe I am pretty sure that kubanczyk is being a bit tongue-in-cheek here, or rather that he is describing the official Soviet line (or its idealized self-image, if you like). Of course the Soviets invaded Finland, but they set it up to look like they were just helping a friendly (puppet, out-of-state...) government by its own request and after it had been provoked. As he goes on to say, "all of this staged". So I'd urge you to reverse the downvote. Feb 11, 2015 at 10:24
  • 4
    (Apropos, such a brazen mislabelling of one's flagrant acts of aggression is quite similar to Russia's present crypto-invasion of Ukraine - which is not suprising since modern Russian policymakers actually are looking back to Stalin for inspiration) Feb 11, 2015 at 10:24
  • 4
    @Joe In case of Poland, de facto invasion was said to be liberation of the working people of "Western Belorussia" and "Western Ukraine" oppressed by capitalists :) When "re-liberating" these territories in 1944, USSR brought a separate government, albeit this time of Polish ethnicity. The very first Polish city that became available (Chełm) was made a national capital immediately, and Soviet Army could "support" it. Even in other case of a very hurried 1945 invasion of Manchuria, national governments were still beneficients (PRC and North Korea).
    – kubanczyk
    Feb 11, 2015 at 13:08

Just to elaborate on points already made, while the Soviets did preserve the national republics, Stalin actively took measures to limit their autonomy. A few significant examples of this are:

1) the gifting of Crimea to the Ukraine. Crimea was distinctly different in terms of its culture and history, and has no legitimate ties to being a subsidiary of Ukraine in terms of a historical perspective. 2) The rearranging of the boundaries of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, making them more convoluted and meant to maximize the conflict over the water system. 3) the enforced specialization of the Central Asian countries. Uzbekistan was turned into an area highly specialized in farming and agriculture, which made it logistically dependant on long term opponents the Kyrgyz who were in control of the water supply, and who were made into significant power manufacturers. Kazahkstan had many of its existing industries dismantled and specialized according to the needs of the USSR.

The purpose, as is theoriized retrospectively, was to maximize conflict in the case that the USSR should fall, in order to compel continuing cooperation between the Soviet nations and prevent true autonomy. The conflicts between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are a testament to this, as is the massive international conflict over Crimea today. The Central Asian states are essentially completely interdependent, and have not progressed significantly beyond their primary economic structures since the USSR.

  • 2
    Theorized by whom? Do you have a reference for this theory of Stalin's intentions. I'd also suggest leaving Crimea out of it - as recent events have shown this is a highly politicized matter as to what exactly is its "culture" and what sort of "legitimate ties" it has with various countries. A look at the map at least shows that, if nothing else, it has territorial contiguity with Soviet Ukraine and not with Soviet Russia so the issue is far from as simple as you make it out to be. Otherwise, nice answer, +1. Feb 23, 2015 at 13:34
  • These theories are primarily centered around the Kyrgyz and Uzbek conflicts, due to the severity of their historically recent conflicts - thenational.ae/news/world/south-asia/….
    – Kasierith
    Feb 23, 2015 at 17:37
  • 2
    "the gifting of Crimea to the Ukraine" was done by Khrushchev, not Stalin.
    – DrZ214
    Aug 1, 2015 at 5:37
  • 1
    I realized more. Strategically rearranging borders to split up resources could've been done just to maximize their dependence on the federal system (to minimize chances of rebellion). They might never've dreamed of the USSR's collapse. The same two things can be said of point 3, specializing the republic's industries.
    – DrZ214
    Apr 11, 2016 at 8:18
  • an Uzbek told me that they joke their borders are crazy 'cause Stalin was drunk when he draw them... And they themselves say the borders were made to make independence more difficult. And it is not difficult to suppose that: The most important and fertile valley (Fergana) in the region is divided in 3 countries: uzbek gets the center, kyrgystan the border with the surrounding mountains, and tajikstan the best pass in and out of the valley. So they never will be all happy. Or this was done on purpose to make their life suck, or Stalin was really very drunk. (moreover look the awful enclaves)
    – Luiz
    Mar 9, 2018 at 20:46

The Soviet Union, or Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was an attempt by the Communists to recreate the Russian empire under "socialist" principles. The idea was to blur the differences in "nationalities" in favor of the common, socialist "good," so that the different peoples would forget their petty differences and work together for a worker's paradise. They did so to distinguish their government from the failed Tsarists.

The original "republics" were Russia, the Ukraine, Byelorussia, and "Transcaucasia," but the other "republics" demanded, and obtained their separate identities as a "consolation" for being absorbed by the larger USSR.

  • 1
    "Smaller"?! Certainly not Kazakh S.S.R. Turkmen S.S.R., Uzbek S.S.R. all of which were larger than Belorussian S.S.R, or Khirgiz and Tajik S.S.R.'s which were comparable to it. Not to mention that Kazakh S.S.R. was nearly as lare as all S.S.R. besides Russia combined. You should be careful making deductions from Mercator projections. Dec 23, 2020 at 3:53
  • @PieterGeerkens: Changed "smaller" to "other." I had originally thought those republics were smaller in population, but that's not really true.
    – Tom Au
    Dec 23, 2020 at 7:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.