There were 15 countries in the Soviet Union from 1956 until its collapse in 1991. They were formally known as Soviet Republics. When the Soviet Union was dissolved, they each became independent countries.
You can see a map of these Soviet Republics here (a detailed list with more information can also be found further down this article):
The Russian SFSR was, by far, the largest of the Soviet Republics. The other republics were made up of parts of the former Russian Empire.
Although the Soviet Union was mostly governed from the centre, each republic had its own administration and, with the exception of the Russian SFSR, had its own branch of the Communist Party. They also had their own flags and anthems. According to its constitution, the USSR was a federation of all of its republics. And, technically, any of them could leave the USSR at any time if they wished.
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When the United Nations was founded in 1945, the Soviet Union argued that, because it was a federation of 15 republics it should have 15 seats at the UN. It settled for three seats – one each for the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian republics – plus one seat on the Security Council.
There is some evidence to show that, as a compromise deal, the United States was also offered three seats at the UN. It didn’t take up the offer, though, as it couldn’t decide which US states should get them. [/su_box]
This nominal independence proved a two-edged sword in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Across much of the Soviet Union opposition gravitated towards nationalist movements and almost all of the republics had an movement arguing for independence. In some republics, particularly in the Caucasus and Central Asia, those tensions were exacerbated by historical decisions to draw boundaries that divided peoples between two or more republics. Examples of conflicts during the 1980s include the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, and the riots of 1990 which took place in the city of Osh, in Kyrgyzstan.
Here is a list of all of the Soviet Republics, the date they joined the USSR, and the name of their successor country.
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A number of other republics were also briefly a part of the USSR. They included:
- The Abkhazian SSR
- The Transcaucasian SFSR
- The Khorezm SSR
- The Bukharan SSR
- The Karelo-Finnish SSR
Most of these states were formed in the early days of the Soviet Union, and few lasted for more than a couple of years. The longest surviving was the Karelo-Finnish SSR which existed for 16 years, between 1940 and 1956, before being re-incorporated in the Russian SFSR. During that period, the Soviet Union had sixteen republics.