Tannu Tuva was a little country between Russia and Mongolia. This state became independent after the Russian Civil War, but rejoined the USSR as an autonomous republic on 1944 Oct 11.

Why? Was this done voluntarily? And, very strange to me, why did this happen when the war with Germany was still ongoing? From what I read on the article, Tuva was already helping out by donating horses and wool blankets and other stuff. As far as I can tell there is not much in that land except mountains, pasture, and nomads with horses.

I could not find the answer in the article or a google translate of the Russian version of the article. The closest thing I found through searching was this quora article that's more geared to Mongolia than Tannu Tuva.

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    Are you asking about why Tuva decided to join USSR or why USSR accepted their request? Either way the independent Tuva was not recognized by anyone except Soviets and Mongolia, so it seemed to be an easy way to enter the "international community" (and at least secure themselves from China with its yet uncertain future). After all, de-facto they were already completely integrated both politically and economically. Mar 8, 2018 at 14:38
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    @seven-phases-max I'm asking about why it happened at all, and especially, why in 1944? That time is the strangest thing to me, due to the war with Germany. Also, do you have a source for any of your claims? If so, please turn it into an answer. Otherwise, please stop answering my questions with other questions in an "obvious" tone. I highly doubt the Tuvans knew much of anything about world affairs or had a decent newpaper from anywhere across the ocean, so let's not assume what they did or didn't know about the USSR other than what was told to them.
    – DrZ214
    Mar 8, 2018 at 15:14
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    A random thought [actually 99% of my answers are random thoughts :-P]. Tannu Tuva had been a source of tension between (Nationalist) China and the SU. In 1944 the outcome of the war was clear, but China was still very busy fighting Japan. So China could not protest strongly against that and the SU could at the time being annex without risks and preempt possible future claims by China. Now I don't have proof, but maybe someone knows where to look to prove/disprove this idea.
    – SJuan76
    Mar 8, 2018 at 21:44
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    "Why did Russia annex...?" It annexes everything that it can annex during few last centuries.
    – Alex
    Mar 8, 2018 at 23:51
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    @DrZ214: 1944 was actually a good timing: other countries were occupied with other things, did not care, because of the war. So it was almost unnoticed. Speaking of the "democratic decision" to join USSR, we know many examples of such "democratic decisions" (in Baltic republics, for example). If you read the English Wikipedia carefully (what happened before this annexation), you get a good picture about Sovier meddling in this republic.
    – Alex
    Mar 13, 2018 at 13:59

1 Answer 1



The main question is probably the most difficult to answer. Described by one source as once being “among the most insular and obscure places on earth”, land-locked Tannu Tuva’s area is approximate to that of Greece but it has long been sparsely populated and has extreme temperatures. As to why the Soviet Union wanted it, there are different schools of thought on this as no conclusive evidence has yet emerged. In a recent article, Tuva’s Accession to the USSR: Alternative Opinions (2017), Ivanna V. Otroshchenko says of the annexation:

Many details of this extraordinary event are still unknown. Many questions concerning its reasons, initiators and circumstances still remain unanswered...

The proliferation of versions of Tuva’s accession to the Soviet Union is in itself a proof of how little we know so far about this significant historical event.

In short, there are too many ‘versions’ to cover all of them in any detail in this post so the focus will be on the main ideas put forward by academics.

Among Russian historians, the prevailing argument has been that the annexation was predictable, the logical outcome of both historical factors and the ever closer relationship that had developed between Tuva and the Soviet Union since 1932. The key figure in this relationship was Salchak Toka, Prime Minister from 1932 to 1944. Reversing many of the policies of his predecessor, Toka and his fellow Stalin loyalist had come to power in a Soviet-backed coup and, over the following years, moved the country ever closer – in almost all respects – to the Soviet Union. Under Toka’s leadership, Tuva had three times requested annexation by the Soviet Union before it finally happened in 1944.

Among Western academics, the most detailed assessment, until recently at least, is that of Walter Kolarz in The Peoples of the Soviet Far East (1954). He summarizes the reasons for the annexation as:

  1. An abundance of livestock. Between 1941 and 1945, Tuva supplied the Soviet Union with 600,000 cattle, in addition to 40,000 horses.
  2. Tuva “forms a national fortress guarding the approaches to the Kuzbass (Kuznetsk Basin), one of the main coal and steel producing centres of the Soviet Union.” Better to have this inside Soviet borders.
  3. Minerals and metals, including gold and uranium (Kolarz says this may be the most important point).
  4. The presence of closely related Turkic peoples already inside the Soviet Union; some of those inside the border might argue they should be with their brethren outside the border.

Of the above, the first point seems to be the least convincing. The ruling elite in Tuva was closely linked to the Soviet regime and was already supplying not just cattle and horses but also soldiers; there is no indication in any sources that this arrangement was under threat or about to change.

The third point, on the other hand, may well be the key one and has been espoused by other Western academics. The argument is that, as uranium had been discovered in Tuva, and as Stalin had set up an atomic bomb project following the advice of the Russian physicist Georgy Flyorov who had told him in 1942 that "it is essential to manufacture a uranium bomb without a delay.", Tuvan resources were potentially very important.

This begs the question as to why Outer Mongolia, which also had uranium, was not annexed along with Tuva. Two arguments have been forwarded for this: first, such an action would have been seen as overly-provocative by China and, second, Outer Mongolia – along with Xinjiang – was seen as a useful buffer state between China and the Soviet Union. Xinjiang was, in fact, an area of conflict between the two regional powers; China had taken control of the area from Russia in 1942. Some historians have argued that Stalin’s annexation of Tuva was a warning to the Chinese not to make a move on Outer Mongolia as it had done on Xinjiang (the Soviets supported a rebellion there against the Chinese Kuomintang in November 1944, the month after Tuva was annexed).


Note: Tuva had been annexed by Russia in 1914, had then changed hands a number of times before the Tuvan People's Republic was set up in 1921 by Bolsheviks

This is impossible to answer with certainty as we cannot know for sure that Stalin didn’t tell Toka: ‘join the Soviet Union or else...’ However, as the Toka regime had requested annexation in 1939, 1941 and 1943 (the requests had been turned down, probably due to bad timing), it seems likely that the 1944 request was, if not initiated by the Tuva leadership, eagerly made by them following a request or suggestion from Stalin.

The reasons for the Tuvan leadership's eagerness were probably (1) a fear of China’s hostile intentions (see below) and (2) the economic reality of being a small, underdeveloped land-locked state which needed strong economic links (as well as aid) from its powerful neighbour. Whether the population at large agreed with the annexation will never be known - they weren't asked as there was never a referendum. Ironically, this effectively meant that the annexation was illegal under the Soviet's own constitution.

The lack of a referendum can probably be attributed to the desire to keep the annexation out of the news and / or to the delay it would cause. As the Tuvan population was predominantly nomadic (82.2% according to the 1931 census), there was unlikely to be much organized opposition anyway - most of them wouldn't even have known about the annexation for quite a while.


As Alex noted in his comment, 1944 was actually a good time; the Soviet leadership had more pressing matters to deal with before then while any later could have led to problems with the US and China. In 1944, on the other hand, the tide had turned in the Soviets’ favour in Europe as the Western allies had opened the second front several months earlier. The actual announcement of the annexation was effectively buried by only being made in the local newspaper and at a time when no one was paying any attention.

For other countries, attention was elsewhere – the Chinese, especially, were heavily engaged in fighting Japan. Stalin was certainly aware of China’s claims to Tuva, claims which Chiang Kai-shek mentioned to Roosevelt at the Cairo Conference in November 1943. Stalin would also have had a good idea by 1944 of the likely American reaction to the annexation of territories and would have wanted the Tuvan situation sorted out before the Americans got too interested. Whether the loss of Tuvan independence would have been a major concern is debatable as Tuva had only ever been recognized by the Soviets and Mongols in the first place, but Stalin would have been concerned about American interest in Chinese claims on the territory. Finally, if one accepts the argument that the existence of uranium in Tuva as important to the Soviets, the Soviet atomic program made the annexation of Tuva highly desirable at this time.

Other sources:

Tuva. A State Reawakens


Moscow’s Last Great Territorial Acquisition Before Crimea – Stalin’s 1944 Annexation of Tuva

History of Tuva

Tuvan People's Republic

Soviet Disunion: A History of the Nationalities Problem in the USSR

  • Wait...what? Uranium in Tuva? In Mongolia too??? Do we know the exact date it was discovered? Do we at least know if Uranium was discovered there before any Uranium was discovered within the USSR?
    – DrZ214
    May 26, 2018 at 15:56
  • @DrZ214 The only date I can find for Tuva is 'sometime in 1944', but the Otroshchenko article, which references many sources, does not question the presence of uranium in Tuva as a possible motive for annexation. Some mining of uranium was done in Tajikstan in 1943 but it wasn't enough. For Mongolia, discovery was in the 'mid 1940s'. May 26, 2018 at 16:52
  • @DrZ214 Note, though, that uranium may not have been a motive at all. The argument that it was a motive for annexation is widely held by Western sources but, as stated at the beginning of the answer, no one knows for sure. May 26, 2018 at 16:56
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    @DrZ214 By 1944 USSR had next to no proven reserves of uranium, but geologists had hypotheses where to find it, so exploration crews were sent all over the country (State Defense Comittee Decree No. 5585ss, April 8th). One of the parties indeed visited Tuva: elib.biblioatom.ru/text/kak-iskali-i-dobyvali-uran_2002/go,292/… Minable deposits were only found years later though.
    – ain92
    Apr 22, 2019 at 11:51

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