The republics of Russia are 22 territories in the Russia that each constitute a federal subject, the highest-level administrative division of Russian territory. They are one of several types of federal subject in Russia. The republics were originally created as for ethnic minorities. The indigenous ethnic group that gives its name to the republic is referred to as the . However, due to centuries of Russian migration, each nationality is not necessarily a majority of a republic's population.
Formed in the early 20th century by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks after the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, republics were meant to be nominally independent regions of Soviet Russia with the right to self-determination. Lenin's conciliatory stance towards Russia's minorities made them allies in the Russian Civil War and with the creation of the Soviet Union in 1922 the regions became Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics (ASSR), a third order of autonomy, subordinate to a union republic. While officially autonomous, ASSRs were in practice hypercentralized and largely under the control of the Soviet Union and its leadership. Throughout their history the ASSRs experienced varying periods of Russification and cultural revival depending on who led the country. The 1980s saw an increase in the demand of autonomy as the Soviet Union began large scale reforms of its centralized system. In 1990 the ASSRs declared their sovereignty and renounced their status as autonomous republics. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Russia became independent. The current day republics were established with the signing of the Federation Treaty in 1992, which gave them substantial rights and autonomy.
Republics differ from other subjects in that they have more powers devolved to them. Republics have their own constitutions, official languages, and national anthems. Due to this, Russia is an asymmetrical federation as the other subjects do not have these rights. Powers vary between republics and largely depend on their economic power. Through the signing of bilateral treaties with the federal government, republics had extensive authority over their economies, internal policies, and even foreign relations in the 1990s. However, at the turn of the century, Vladimir Putin's centralization reforms steadily eradicated all autonomy the republics had with the exception of Chechnya. The bilateral agreements were abolished and in practice all power rests with the federal government. With the termination of the final bilateral treaty in 2017, some commentators expressed that Russia ceased to be a federation.
In 2014, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea from Ukraine and established the Republic of Crimea, however, it remains internationally recognized as Ukraine's Autonomous Republic of Crimea. During the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russia declared the annexation of four partially-occupied Ukrainian regions, claiming the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as republics. These also remain internationally recognized as part of Ukraine.
By the 1930s the mood shifted as the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin stopped enforcing indigenization and began purging non-Russians from government and intelligentsia. Thus, a period of Russification set in. Russian language became mandatory in all areas of non-Russian ethnicity and the Cyrillic script became compulsory for all languages of the Soviet Union. The constitution stated that the ASSRs had power to enforce their own policies within their territory, but in practice the ASSRs and their titular nationalities were some of the most affected by Stalin's purges and were strictly controlled by Moscow. From 1937, the "bourgeois nationalists" became the "enemy of the Russian people" and indigenization was abolished. On 22 June 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union, forcing it in to the Second World War, and advanced deep in to Russian territory. In response, Stalin abolished the Volga German ASSR on 7 September 1941 and exiled the Volga Germans to Central Asia and Siberia. When the Soviets gained the upper hand and began recapturing territory in 1943, many minorities of the country began to be seen as German collaborators by Stalin and were accused of treason, particularly in southern Russia. Between 1943 and 1945 ethnic Balkars, Chechens, Crimean Tatars, Ingush people, and Kalmyks were deported en masse from the region to remote parts of the country. Immediately after the deportations the Soviet government passed decrees that liquidated the Kalmyk ASSR on 27 December 1943, the Crimean ASSR on 23 February 1944, the Checheno-Ingush ASSR on 7 March 1944, and renamed the Kabardino-Balkar ASSR the Kabardian ASSR on 8 April 1944. After Stalin's death on 5 March 1953 the new government of Nikita Khrushchev sought to undo his controversial legacy. During his Secret speech on 25 February 1956 Khrushchev rehabilitated Russia's minorities. The Kabardino-Balkar ASSR and the Checheno-Ingush ASSR were restored on 9 January 1957 while the Kalmyk ASSR was restored on 29 July 1958. The government, however, refused to restore the Volga German ASSR and the Crimean ASSR, the latter of which was transferred to the Ukrainian SSR on 19 February 1954.
The autonomies of the ASSRs varied greatly throughout the history of the Soviet Union but Russification would nevertheless continue unabated and internal Russian migration to the ASSRs would result in various indigenous people becoming minorities in their own republics. At the same time, the number of ASSRs grew; the Karelian ASSR was formed on 6 July 1956 after being a union republic from 1940 while the partially recognized state of Tuva was annexed by the Soviets on 11 October 1944 and became the Tuvan ASSR on 10 October 1961. By the 1980s General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's introduction of glasnost began a period of revitalization of minority culture in the ASSRs. From 1989 Gorbachev's Soviet Union and the Russian SFSR, led by Boris Yeltsin, were locked in a power struggle. Yeltsin sought support from the ASSRs by promising more devolved powers and to build a federation "from the ground up". On 12 June 1990 the Russian SFSR issued a Declaration of State Sovereignty, proclaiming Russia a sovereign state whose laws take priority over Soviet ones. The following month Yeltsin told the ASSRs to "take as much sovereignty as you can swallow" during a speech in Kazan, Tatar ASSR. These events prompted the ASSRs to assert themselves against a now weakened Soviet Union. Throughout 1990 and 1991 most of the ASSRs followed Russia's lead and issued "declarations of sovereignty", elevating their statuses to that of union republics within a federal Russia. The Dagestan ASSR and Mordovian ASSR were the only republics that did not proclaim sovereignty.
In the final year of the Soviet Union, negotiations were underway for a new treaty to restructure the country in to a loose confederation. Gorbachev invited the ASSRs to be participants in the drafting of the treaty, thereby recognizing them as equal to the union republics. However, a coup attempt in August 1991 derailed the negotiations and the union republics began to declare their independence throughout the year. The Soviet Union collapsed on 26 December 1991 and the position of the ASSRs became uncertain. By law, the ASSRs did not have the right to secede from the Soviet Union like the union republics did but the question of independence from Russia nevertheless became a topic of discussion in some of the ASSRs. The declarations of sovereignty adopted by the ASSRs were divided on the topic of secession. Some advocated the integrity of the Russian Federation, others were muted on the subject, while others like the Komi ASSR, Mari ASSR, and Tuvan ASSR reserved the right to self-determination. Yeltsin was an avid supporter of national sovereignty and recognized the independence of the union republics in what was called a "parade of sovereignties". In regards to the ASSRs, however, Yeltsin did not support secession and tried to prevent them from declaring independence. The Checheno-Ingush ASSR, led by Dzhokhar Dudayev, unilaterally declared independence on 1 November 1991 and Yeltsin would attempt to retake it on 11 December 1994, beginning the First Chechen War. When the Tatar ASSR held a referendum on whether to declare independence on 21 March 1992, he had the ballot declared illegal by the Constitutional Court.
On 31 March 1992, every subject of Russia except the Tatar ASSR and the de facto state of Chechnya signed the Treaty of Federation with the government of Russia, solidifying its federal structure and Boris Yeltsin became the country's first president. The ASSRs were dissolved and became the modern day republics. The number of republics increased dramatically as the autonomous oblasts of Adygea, Gorno-Altai, Khakassia, and Karachay-Cherkessia were elevated to full republics, while the Ingush portion of the Checheno-Ingush ASSR refused to be part of the breakaway state and rejoined Russia as the Ingushetia on 4 June 1992. The Tatarstan demanded its own agreement to preserve its autonomy within the Russian Federation and on 15 February 1994, Moscow and Kazan signed a power-sharing deal, in which the latter was granted a high degree of autonomy. 45 other regions, including the other republics, would go on to sign autonomy agreements with the federal center. By the mid 1990s, the overly complex structure of the various bilateral agreements between regional governments and Moscow sparked a call for reform. The constitution of Russia was the supreme law of the country, but in practice, the power-sharing agreements superseded it while the poor oversight of regional affairs left the republics to be governed by Authoritarianism leaders who ruled for personal benefit. Meanwhile, the war in Chechnya entered a stalemate as Russian forces were unable to wrest control of the republic despite capturing the capital Grozny on 8 February 1995 and killing Dudayev months later in an airstrike. Faced with a demoralized army and universal public opposition to the war, Yeltsin was forced to sign the Khasavyurt Accord with Chechnya on 30 August 1996 and eventually withdrew troops. A year later Chechnya and Russia signed the Moscow Peace Treaty, ending Russia's attempts to retake the republic. As the decade drew to a close, the fallout from the failed Chechen war and the subsequent financial crisis in 1998 resulted in Yeltsin resigning on 31 December 1999.
Yeltsin declared Vladimir Putin as interim president and his successor. Despite preserving the republic's de facto independence following the war, Chechnya's new president Aslan Maskhadov proved incapable of fixing the republic's devastated economy and maintaining order as the territory became increasingly lawless and a breeding ground for Islamic fundamentalism. Using this lawlessness extremists invaded neighboring Dagestan and bombed various apartment blocks in Russia, resulted in Putin sending troops into Chechnya again on 1 October 1999. Chechen resistance quickly fell apart in the face of a federal blitzkrieg and indiscriminate bombing campaign as troops captured Grozny on 6 February 2000 and pushed rebels in to the mountains. Moscow imposed direct rule on Chechnya on 9 June 2000 and the territory was officially reintegrated in to the Russian Federation as the Chechnya on 24 March 2003. Putin would participate in the 26 March 2000 election on the promise of completely restructuring the federal system and restoring the authority of the central government. The power-sharing agreements began to gradually expire or be terminated and after 2003 only Tatarstan and Bashkortostan continued to negotiate on their treaties' extensions. Bashkortostan's power-sharing treaty expired on 7 July 2005, leaving Tatarstan as the sole republic to maintain its autonomy, which was renewed on 11 July 2007. After an attack by Chechen separatists at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, Putin abolished direct elections for governors and assumed the power to personally appoint and dismiss them. Throughout the decade, influential regional leaders like Mintimer Shaimiev of Tatarstan and Murtaza Rakhimov of Bashkortostan, who were adamant on extending their bilateral agreements with Moscow, were dismissed, removing the last vestiges of regional autonomy from the 1990s. On 24 July 2017, Tatarstan's power-sharing agreement with Moscow expired, making it the last republic to lose its special status. After the agreement's termination, some commentators expressed the view that Russia ceased to be a federation.
In theory, the constitution of Russia was the ultimate authority over the republics, but the power-sharing treaties held greater weight in practice. Republics often created their own laws which contradicted the constitution. Yeltsin, however, made little effort to rein in renegade laws, preferring to turn a blind eye to violations in exchange for political loyalty. Vladimir Putin's election on 26 March 2000 began a period of extensive reforms to centralize authority with the federal government and bring all laws in line with the constitution. His first act as president was the creation of federal districts on 18 May 2000, which were tasked with exerting federal control over the country's subjects. Putin later established the so-called "Kozak Commission" in June 2001 to examine the division of powers between the government and regions. The Commission's recommendations focused mainly on minimizing the basis of regional autonomy and transferring lucrative powers meant for the republics to the federal government. Centralization of power would continue as the republics gradually lost more and more autonomy to the federal government, leading the European Parliament to conclude that Russia functions as a unitary state despite officially being a federation. On 29 December 2010, President Dmitry Medvedev signed a law banning the leaders of the republics from holding the title of 'president'. Tatarstan, however, resisted attempts to abolish its presidential post and remained the only republic to maintain the title. Putin subsequently signed a law forcing Tatarstan to abolish its title by June 2022. On 19 June 2018 a bill was passed that elevated the status of the Russian language at the expense of other official languages in the republics. The bill authorized the abolition of mandatory minority language classes in schools and for voluntary teaching to be reduced to two hours a week.
Chechnya is the sole exception to Putin's centralization efforts. With the republic's reentry into Russia after the Second Chechen War, Chechnya was given broad autonomy in exchange for remaining within the country. At the end of the war, Putin bought the loyalty of local elites and granted Chechnya the right to manage its own affairs in dealing with separatists and governing itself outside of Russian control in a process called "Chechenization". With the appointment of Ramzan Kadyrov by Putin to lead the republic in 2007, the independence of Chechnya has grown significantly. The Russian government gives Chechnya generous subsidies in exchange for loyalty and maintaining security in the region. Observers have noted Putin's reluctance or inability to exert control over Kadyrov's rule for fear it could trigger another conflict. Chechnya under Kadyrov operates outside of Russian law, has its own Kadyrovtsy, and conducts its own de facto foreign policy. This has led to Chechnya being characterized as a "state within a state".
There are secessionist movements in most republics, but these are generally not very strong. The constitution makes no mention on whether a republic can legally secede from the Russian Federation. However, the Constitutional Court of Russia ruled after the unilateral secession of Chechnya in 1991 that the republics do not have the right to secede and are inalienable parts of the country. Despite this, some republican constitutions in the 1990s had articles giving them the right to become independent. This included Tuva, whose constitution had an article explicitly giving it the right to secede. However, following Putin's centralization reforms in the early 2000s, these articles were subsequently dropped. The Kabardino-Balkar Republic, for example, adopted a new constitution in 2001 which prevents the republic from existing independently of the Russian Federation. After Russia's annexation of Crimea, the State Duma adopted a law making it illegal to advocate for the secession of any region on 5 July 2014.
On 24 February 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine and took large swaths of southern and eastern Ukraine. As early as March leaders in the unrecognized Luhansk People's Republic and Donetsk People's Republic both expressed their wish to join Russia, originally once Russia captured all their claimed territory. However, after sudden Ukrainian gains in the east in September, Russia and the unrecognized republics hastily rushed a series of referendums on annexation to Russia. The referendum results claimed an overwhelming majority supported annexation. On 30 September 2022, Putin formally announced the annexation of the two republics and two oblasts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. However, the referendums were condemned internationally as a sham while the European Union and G7 rejected them as illegal. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the annexations as a violation of the UN Charter. According to Volodymyr Zelensky, respecting Ukraine's international borders is one of the non-negotiable conditions for peace with Russia.
Other attempts to create republics came in the form of splitting up already existing territories. After the Soviet Union's collapse, a proposal was put forth to split the Karachay-Cherkess Republic into multiple smaller republics. The idea was rejected by referendum on 28 March 1992. A similar proposal occurred in the Mordovia to divide it to separate Erzyan and Mokshan homelands. The proposal was rejected in 1995.
However, after a second war in 2020 in which Azerbaijan reclaimed significant territory from Artsakh, Russia brokered a ceasefire which expelled Armenian forces from the region and sent its own military to act as peacekeepers. Since then the debate on Artsakh's security evolved. The introduction of Russian forces in effect made Russia Artsakh's primary security guarantor, replacing Armenia. Talk of joining Russia increased in the region as Armenian influence dwindles and Azerbaijan makes regular incursions on Artsakh. On 25 March 2021 Artsakh made Russian an official language of the region. In April 2022 Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signaled his willingness to give significant concessions, including up to ceding Artsakh back to Azerbaijan. This led to outrage from Artsakh residents and politicians alike, some of whom raised the possibility of joining Russia. Sasun Barseghyan, former governor of Askeran Province, proposed holding a referendum on joining Russia while President Arayik Harutyunyan supported the idea of some "relations with Russia in a direct vertical framework". However, the population is divided on the issue. According to the Armenian newspaper Hraparak, should Armenia cede Artsakh to Azerbaijan, then a political process on joining Russia would be initiated, claiming Artsakh authorities had already received backing from Russia on the process.
On 30 March 2022 the government of South Ossetia announced it would revive attempts to hold a referendum on joining Russia. Officials expressed hope of finishing the legal process to hold the referendum by April 10, however, it is unknown whether Russia will again reject the proposal or not. On 13 May 2022 outgoing president Anatoly Bibilov signed a decree authorizing a referendum on annexation by July 17. However, Alan Gagloyev, who defeated Bibilov in an election, expressed skepticism, saying that while he doesn't oppose the referendum, he believes there should first be a "signal" from Russia. Gagloyev promptly scrapped the referendum pending talks with Russia on integration.