Were Soviet units typically separated by national origin or were all men from all Soviet nations mixed together in divisions? I'm not talking just through World War II, but from the 1940s all the way to the 1980s.

For example, in this picture, would the "asian" looking soldier be an ethnic minority from Siberia, or could the soldier be from a central Asian Soviet nation?


  • I'm pretty sure everything was the same military. Conscripts from all over the USSR were mixed in the same barracks which led to some rather problematic situations.
    – D J Sims
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 6:01
  • And also the corollary question, how could independent republics formed in the early 90s get their army up? Especially bothering when Ukraine is fighting Russia, and both were part of the same Soviet Union not so long ago..
    – Bregalad
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 13:47
  • @Bregalad how could independent republics formed in the early 90s get their army up? Men are not problem (just volunteers - former conscripts). Concerning arms, it could differ but those who had strong (usually ethnic) lobby in Moscow got all the arms from local military storages without any problem. You should remember that many (if not all) politicians of newly founded independent states had very high positions in SU, including militaries.
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 16:19
  • @Bregalad That would make a nice separate question.. Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 20:45
  • @Matt Basically, the Soviet Army was split up on a geographic basis among the Slavic republics. For the other republics, your description sounds reasonable as a rough approximation. Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 20:47

1 Answer 1


No Soviet republic had its own military units. This applies not only to to Asian republics but also to Ukraine, Belarus, to all republics. There was only one Soviet Army. That you see in it a lot of "Asian-looking" soldiers is not surprising: it was based on military draft and reflected the general composition of the population. People drafted in Asia could serve in Ukraine and vise versa. This applies also to the so-called "Interior troops" whose stated purpose was to protect the boundary, but they were also used sometimes to suppress riots.

Only police (which was not related to the Army) was manned locally.

There were very few exceptions in the history of Soviet Union. For example, a Polish unit was formed during WW2 of the Poles taken prisoners in 1939 and other Poles.

EDIT. Few words on the comment of Felix Goldberg. KGB existed only since 1954 (as a result of re-organization after Stalin's death). Before that all interior troops and border troops were controlled by various ministries. (Basically this was the Ministry of Interior but it frequently changed the name). They all originate from VChK squads. Then it was GPU (1922) OGPU (1923) NKVD (Ministry of the interior) (1937), MVD (1946) MGB (1947), MOOP (Ministry of Protection of Public Order) (1962), and MVD again (1968). The main stated purposes of these troops were protection of order, boundary control, guarding important objects (rail roads first of all) convoy (prisoner camp maintenance) and construction work. In 1954 border control function shifted to the separate agency, KGB. Interior troops were responsible for repression of popular uprisings and riots, deportation of peoples during WWII, and other such functions. Some of them also fought the Germans during WWII. All interior troops were under the central government control, there was no national units controlled by the republics.

  • 1
    Nice answer but I have a quibble: the internal troops were not intended for border duty. There were wholly separate Border Troops for that, under control of the KGB, whereas the Interior Troops were controlled by the Interior Ministry. Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 20:49
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    My point is that the Interior Troops were never intended - even formally - for border guard duty, for which a separate (quasi)-army exists. They were always for internal repression. The answer as it is is slightly misleading on this point (not the main one here). Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 7:38
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    @FelixGoldberg They were always for internal repression Sounds really offensive. What if I said that "National Guard of US serves only for repressions"?
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 9:26
  • 1
    @Matt Well, the Soviet regime was repressive. Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 11:13
  • 1
    @FelixGoldberg Your sentence is pointless. American regime was (and arguably still is) racist and repressive. For that matter, you should also acknowledge that US National Guard was intended for repressions only, as they did in Ferguson, Baltimore and other places.
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 11:25

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