- Among Russia’s 83 federal subjects, the 21 ethnic republics represent those constituent units that possess the highest level of sovereignty, including—in most cases—a president, constitution, parliament, flag, anthem, control of their own borders, and an official language other than Russian.The republics can be grouped into four geographic areas: the North Caucasian republics (Adygeya, Karachay-Cherkessiya, Kabardino-Balkariya, North Ossetiya, Ingushetiya, Chechnya, Dagestan, and Kalmykiya); the Volga-Ural republics (Mordoviya, Chuvashiya, Mari El, Udmurtiya, Tatarstan, and Bashkortostan); southeastern Siberian republics (Altay, Khakasiya, Tuva, and Buryatiya); and the northern republics (Kareliya, Komi, and the Sakha Republic). During the Soviet period, nearly all these units were designated as Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics (ASSRs) within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). Kareliya formerly enjoyed status as a union republic of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1940 until 1956, while Tuva was an independent country from 1911 to 1944. In most cases, each republic is structured as the ethnic homeland of a particular nationality, though in some cases (specifically, KarachayCherkessiya, Kabardino-Balkariya, and Dagestan), the republic is shared among two or more groups.The demographic status of the titular nationality ranges from a high of 93.5 percent (Chechnya) to a low of 9.2 percent (Kareliya). In nine republics (Adygeya, Altay, Bashkortostan, Buryatiya, Kareliya, Mari El, Mordoviya, Udmurtiya, and Khakasiya), ethnic Russians enjoy majority or plurality status at the expense of the titular group; titular nationalities command a statistical majority in only seven republics (Ingushetiya, Kalmykiya, North Ossetiya, Tatarstan, Tuva, Chechnya, and Chuvashiya). In the waning days of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, a number of ASSRs declared their sovereignty within the RSFSR, often accompanied by a name change that abandoned the Soviet-era nomenclature. In some cases, including Chechnya and Tatarstan, the republics unilaterally declared themselves to be union republics with the right to ultimately secede from the Soviet Union; such declarations were rejected by Moscow.In the post-Soviet period, Boris Yeltsin urged the leaders of the republics to take “all the sovereignty they could swallow.” The ensuing policy of asymmetrical federalism allowed for the development of strong presidential systems in many republics, as well as systems of political patronage based on loyalty to the “Little Fathers,” that is, the long-serving heads of state. After Vladimir Putin’s 2005 gubernatorial reforms, which required nomination of regional leaders by Russia’s president, the power of the republican leaders has diminished, though many still command enormous influence on the regional and even federal levels. During his tenure, Putin also outlawed linguistic reforms in Tatarstan, which had instituted a shift to the Latin alphabet, and forced the republics to bring their constitutions into line with the federal constitution, signifying a reimposition of federal control over the non-Russian republics. Chechnya has been largely exempted from restoration of central control in an effort to preserve the comparative peace that has reigned in the troubled republic since 2005.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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