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The Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics (Russian: Союз Советских Cуверенных Республик, Soyuz Sovyetskikh Suvyeryennykh Ryespublik), known colloquially as the Soviet Union (Советский Союз, Sovyetskiy Soyuz), and abbreviated as the USSR (СССР, SSSR); is a country situated in northern Eurasia. A federation comprised of 33 republics, the USSR is the largest nation in area and one of the two global superpowers (along with the United States).
The Soviet Union was established in 1922, encompassing much of the territories of the former Russian Empire. The USSR became involved in World War II following Germany's invasion in 1941, eventually siding with the western allies. The Soviets suffered the largest casualties during the war, ending with the Soviet occupation of Berlin in 1945. Following the end of the war, the western allies and the USSR turned against each other for global economic and political. Known as the Cold War, the period was noted for the political dominance of the capitalist west (led by the United States) and the Communist east (led by the Soviet Union), which was fought not by direct war but by manipulation, proxy-wars, and Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) following the detonation of a Soviet nuclear bomb in 1949. The Cold War lasted from 1945 until 1990.
From its formation up until the 1980s the Soviet Union was a single-party Communist state. Upon gaining power, Mikhail Gorbachev initiated economic and political reforms known as Perestroika and cultural reforms known as Glasnost. These reforms are credited with transforming the USSR into a more democratic and open nation, but also helped spark internal tensions. In 1991, six of the [then] 15 republics gained independence, while the remaining helped to establish a decentralized federation of equal states. The 1990s saw the gradual revival of the Soviet Union domestically and acting as a model for all post-Communist states. The 2000s brought the USSR back into global dominance following their involvement in the War on Terror and the Moscow metro bombings of 2003.
Following World War II, the Soviet Union emerged as a global player in the arts, science, and sports. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the USSR was the leading space power following the launches of Sputnik in 1957 and the flight of Yuri Gagarin in 1961. The Soviet Union continues to be a major player in the exploration of space.
- Main article: Names of the Soviet Union
The word "soviet" is derived from the Russian word совет (sovet), which translates into English as council. The term would become synonymous with the Soviet Union during the Russian Revolution, in which a council acted as the governing body of the people. Several governments were established during the revolution, several of which would refer to themselves as a "Soviet Socialist Republic." Four of these SSRs would agree to unite themselves as a single nation in 1922. In a similar manner to the use of the "United States of America," these four republics were united under the "Treaty on the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics."
The short form "Soviet Union" and the abbreviation "U.S.S.R." have becomes the standard for everyday use. Outside the Soviet Union, "Russia" continues to be used as a pars pro toto for the Soviet Union as a whole (similar to the use of "Holland" and "England" for the whole of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom respectively).
Upon the signing of the Treaty of the union of sovereign states, the term "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" was officially dropped as the official name. Several new names were proposed, but the most talked as the "Union of Sovereign States," which was officially used in the New Union Treaty. When the constitution was finalized in May 1992, the official name chosen was the "Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics," to allow the continued use of the "Soviet Union" and the "USSR."
On August 20, 1991, the republics of Kazakhstan, Russia, and Uzbekistan would sign the New Union Treaty, establishing the Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics. Addressing the nation, Gorbachev would make mention that a "Bright future is just around the corner." Despite rumors about the USSR annexing additional regions from the six republics, the USSR recognized the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on October 25, 1991, and Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova on December 31, 1991. Gorbachev made mention that the USSR would leave the break-away regions of Abkhazia, Gagauzia, Transnistria, and South Ossetia (as well as any additional regions which opposed separation) alone, provided that the republics do not act out against them.
Despite the majority of the Union now having signed the treaty, the Ukraine was left in the dark. The Ukrainian government has already stated that they wanted to conduct research on the matter of whether the Ukraine would survive in a reformed Union. In late September, it was declared that a referendum would be held in December on whether they should declare independence. After the announcement, the people of the Crimea declared on boycotting the independence referendum on the desire to remain in the Union. The referendum was held on December 1, with about 56% of the voters rejecting independence. After which, newly elected Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk announced plans for the Ukraine to ratify the treaty in mid January the following year, and that all Ukrainians should look forward to the holidays. The last republic joined on January 10, 1992, with all remnants of the former Soviet Union now either independent or absorbed into the new government.
With the beginning of 1992, the Soviet Union hoped to bring peace between Moscow and the newly independent republics. Headway between Moscow and Yerevan when the two sides met in Tehran in December 1991. The Tehran Accords would bring an end to the Nagorno-Karabakh War war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Tensions between the USSR and the independent republics of Georgia and Moldova seemed to only worsen as the months passed. Minor fighting broke out in South Ossetia in January 1992, with limited Soviet assistance on behalf of the South Ossetians. It has hoped that not engaging in war over South Ossetia would leave diplomatic options open.
The boiling point came in March 1992, when Moldova (backed by neighboring Romania) launched an invasion of the break-away region of Transnistria. Gorbachev ordered military aid to the Pridnestrovians, deploying the 14th Army involvement across the border. Russian, Ukrainian, and Don Cossack volunteers began the trek to the front. Days after the beginning of the war, Gagauzia and Transnistria declared independence from Moldova and requested admission into the Soviet Union. The conflict lasted only weeks, ending in a decisive Soviet victory. With pressure from the two republics, as well as pressure from South Ossetia on a potential invasion by Georgian forces, the three republics were granted admission into the USSR in April 1992.
With the announcement that South Ossetia has been granted admission, Georgian troops were ordered to the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Soviet troops were ordered to assist the regions in the event of a Georgian invasion. In hopes to prevent war, Gorbachev requested diplomatic reasoning to end the conflict. Georgia reluctantly agreed, and the two sides began talks in August. By the end of 1992, Georgia agreed to allow the transfer of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into the USSR, in exchange for economic assistance to the new nation. With one conflict over, another needed resolution. In 1994, Moldova held a referendum on whether to merge with Romania. With an almost 80% vote for unification, Romania itself showed little interest in inheriting a border conflict with the USSR. Prior to the unification in 1995, Romania announced that the unification would only take place if Moldova gave up Gagauzia and Transnistria. This officially took place on December 31, 1994, one day prior to the official unification on January 1, 1995.
Just as in the case of the late 1980s, the early years of the 90s was gripped by a recession in the Soviet Union. Despite this, the standards of living was already higher than had been previously, and along with growing economic ties and co-operation with the United States, Western Europe, and Japan; the Soviet Union was slowly rising from the ashes of Communism. By the time Nikolai Ryzhkov was elected President in 1995, the USSR's economy was beginning to surpass the previous decades in growth. The global importance of the ruble began to equal that of the British pound, the French franc, and the Deutschmark. By the turn of the millennium, the ruble would be equal to the status of the US dollar and the Japanese yen. Since 1995, the economy entered in a period of recovery, allowing industry, trade, investment, and agriculture to grow and develop in a rate the country has not seen it decades. infrastructure, public utilities and transportation greatly improved during this period.
The 1990s also saw a rise in "Soviet nationalism," and the continued movement for new republics within the USSR. In 1993, the highly independent autonomous republics of Russia—Tatarstan and Vainakhia—were admitted as republics. Alania, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), Bashkortostan, Chuvashia, and Karakalpakstan followed in 1994. But after the beginning of 1995, the issue of letting additional autonomous areas become republics became a concern for Russian politicians (especially Russian President Boris Yeltsin). Many of the areas were not populous enough to qualify as republics, but continued to express the desire. The issue was finally brought to the Supreme Soviet or Russia, in what would become known as the Saint Petersburg Compromise. The compromise agreed to allow full republican status for Buryatia, Dagestan, Kalmykia, Karelia, Komia, Mari El, Mordovia, Tuva, Udmurtia, and Yakutia; and allowed the mergers Komi-Permyak Okrug with Komia and the mergers of the Agin-Buryat Okrug and the Ust-Orda Buryat Okrug with Buryatia; in exchange that a series of criteria be implemented in the USSR to help bring an end to the Parade of Sovereignties and prevent another outbreak of confusion from happening again. A second and final compromise would be made in 1998 which allowed the Circassia, Cossackia, and the Crimea to become republics.
The decade also showed a major boost for the Soviet space program. In 1993, the Federal Aviation and Space Agency (known simply as SAKA) was established. As was the case of NASA, SAKA was established to help end the military monopoly in the space program, and encourage more civilian and private activities. The major project for the new agency was the Buran program, the Soviet's answer to the US Shuttle program. In 1994, the first manned flight of the shuttles began operations. Buran missions to Mir began a year later.
War on Terror
While the Soviet Union hoped to focus more on internal affairs during the Ryzhkov administration, the USSR continued to be pushed into more and more international situations. Ryzhkov's foreign policy centered around the Soviet Union moving away from their "aggressive image," while continuing to fulfill their roles as a superpower. The USSR would take a more active role in the United Nations, supporting non-aggressive actions against foreign nations.
The later years of the 20th century would become a turbulent time for both the Soviet Union and the United States. With the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and Islamic-lead terrorism, the two superpowers would be taken as the two "Great Satans." The global position of the USSR would come back to focus on September 11, 2001, in which four American airliners are hijacked and used as weapons against the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon near Washington (the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania). As was with the entire world, the Soviets grew concerned for their own protections, and for those lost. The Soviet Union would condemn these attacks, and would support the United States on their "War on Terror." The USSR voted in favor of actions against Sudan (which has been suspected to harbor and support the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, who took responsibility for the 9/11 attacks), and even offered a small amount of troops to be deployed to Africa.
Despite the positive intentions, it would soon become clear that the USSR was also targeted. In October 2003, a terrorist bomb rips across Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, killing over 200 (including a large number of Soviet citizens), followed months later by the infamous Metro bombings of three Moscow Metro trains, the Park Pobedy station, and followed weeks later by an attempted suicide bombing in Red Square.
For the first time in a decade, the Soviet Union would be going into war. With backing by the United Nations, the might of the Red Army would launch an attack on Somalia (which has been suspected of harboring Osama bin Laden since the invasion of Sudan in 2001). Despite the liberation of Mogadishu within months, insurgency continues in southern Somalia. The insurgency intensifies when the Soviet Union becomes the first nation to recognize the independence of Somaliland, gaining both opposition from the insurgents and the newly established Somali government.
The most recent front on the Soviet War on Terror was the capturing of the Moscow University in May 2010. The Marshal Shaposhnikov would retake the ship the following day, but would lead to public fears both in the Soviet Union and globally. The growth of piracy in Somalia has become a bigger threat for the Soviet Union and its allies in the Gulf of Aden.
Government and Politics
The current constitution of the Soviet Union establishes the union as a federation, a semi-presidential republic, and a multi-party democracy. The federal government of the USSR is comprised of three branches of government which constitutionally check the powers of the others. These branches include:
- Executive — Comprises of the presidency and the Cabinet of Ministers. The President of the Soviet Union acts as the head of state of the nation and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The President has the power to approve or veto bills passed by the legislature, and is allowed to appoint members to the judiciary and his/her cabinet (to be confirmed by the legislature). The Cabinet of Ministers is the governing body of the executive branch and includes several ministers who head a specific department (with the Prime Minister being the head of government).
- Judiciary — Comprises of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court of Arbitration, and the federal courts. All judges are appointed by the Supreme Soviet on the recommendation of the President. The primary function of the courts is to interpret laws and to overturn laws deemed unconstitutional.
- Legislative — Comprised of the bicameral Supreme Soviet, which is made up of the 850-member Soviet of Republics (upper house) and the 850-member Soviet of the Union (lower house). The Supreme Soviet is able to adopt federal laws, declare war, and approve treaties. The legislature also holds the power of purse, the power to impeach the president, and the final say in the appointment of federal judges.
The Soviet Union continues to implement the international commitments of the former Communist regime, and continues to hold a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, membership in other international organizations, the rights and obligations under international treaties, and property and debts. The USSR has a multifaceted foreign policy. As of 2009, it maintains diplomatic relations with 191 countries and has 144 embassies. The foreign policy is determined by the President and implemented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
As one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the Soviet Union plays a major role in maintaining international peace and security. The country participates in the Quartet on the Middle East and the Six-party talks with North Korea. The USSR is a member of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations, OSCE, and APEC. The USSR usually takes a leading role in regional organizations such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
The Soviet military is divided into the Army, Navy and Air Force. There are also three independent arms of service: Strategic Nuclear Forces, Military Space Forces and the Airborne Troops. In 2006, the military had 2.246 million personnel on active duty.
The USSR has the the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. It has the second largest fleet of ballistic missile submarines and is the only country apart from the US with a modern strategic bomber force. The USSR's tank force is the largest in the world, its surface navy and air force are among the two strongest, the other being that of the United States.
The country has a large and fully indigenous arms industry, producing all of its own military equipment. The Soviet Union is the world's second top supplier of arms after the United States of America, accounting for around 35% of worldwide weapons sales and exporting weapons to about 100 countries.
Official government military spending for 2008 was $120 billion, the second largest in the world, though various sources have estimated Soviet military expenditures to be considerably higher.
It is mandatory for all male citizens aged 18–47 to be drafted for a year of service in Armed Forces; the government plans to increase the proportion of contract servicemen to 70% by 2010. Defense expenditure has quadrupled over the past six years. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates, official government military spending for 2008 was around $120 billion, the second largest in the world, though various sources, including US intelligence, and the International Institute for Strategic Studies, have estimated the USSR’s military expenditures to be considerably higher. Currently, the military is undergoing a major equipment upgrade worth about $800 billion between 2006 and 2015. Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov supervises the major reforms aimed to transform a mass mobilization army into a smaller, mobile force of professional soldiers.
The Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics is a federal republic which is currently comprised of 34 republics (республики, ryespubliki). According to the constitution of the Soviet Union, the republics are entitled to dictate their domestic affairs in the manner of a sovereign state, while are treated as equal members under a federal government.
Under the administration of six republics (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Siberia, Tajikistan, and Ukraine), there currently exists a total of 15 autonomous republics (автономные республики, avtonomnyye ryespubliki). Unlike the republics of the Soviet Union, autonomous republics are essentially integral parts of a republic which have been granted some regional autonomy and federal representation. The autonomous republics are often compared to the Indian Reservations of the United States in how they are managed.
Outside the administration of the republics and autonomous republics, there currently exists a total of four union cities (города союзного значения, goroda soyuznogo znachyeniya, lit. "cities of union importance"). The union cities are essentially independent cities outside the control of any republic (no different than any other federal city). The four union cities of the Soviet Union are: Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Sevastopol, and Zvezdograd.
The republic, autonomous republics, and union cities of the Soviet Union are subdivided into raions (районы, rayony), which essentially act the same as counties. The more populous republics cluster their raions into larger entities called oblasts (области, oblasti), which can be comparable to provinces.
The Soviet Union is constitutionally a secular state which institutes a separation of church and state, while protecting and securing the freedom of religion for all citizens and organizations within the USSR. Prior to the 1990s, the Soviet Union officially enforced state atheism for both the government and towards its citizens (becoming the first nation to do so in modern history). During this time, the government actively promoted atheism in a move to eliminate all forms of worship within the USSR. State atheism was officially abandoned in 1992, but the results of which remain with a majority of Soviet citizens proclaiming themselves either irreligious, agnostic or atheist. Despite the rebirth of religious worship across the USSR, animosity continues between the government and several religious organizations.
Christianity is the most dominant religion both demographically and historically, with the Eastern Orthodox Church being the largest. Other Christian groups include Eastern Catholics, Roman Catholics, and many denominations of Protestantism. The second largest religion is Islam, with both Sunni Islam and Shia Islam being worshiped. The Soviet Union is one of the few nations in which both sects of Islam coexist and cooperate peacefully within the same nation. While not as large compared to Christianity and Islam, Buddhism and Judaism continue to dominate many regions of the Soviet Union.