Russia is the largest country in the world spanning across Northern Asia and Eastern Europe covering an area of 6,612,100 square miles. It is also the world’s ninth most populous country with a population of 146.77 million people as of 2019. Formerly the Soviet Union, Russia gained independence in 1991 but has had a difficult time establishing a clear political system after seventy-five years of Soviet administration. Russia’s political system showed a sign of settling after a new constitution was adopted in 1993 establishing a strong presidency. The federal subjects of Russia refer to the constituent units of the Russian Federation according to the constitution of Russia. The constitution of Russia recognizes 85 federal subjects since March 18, 2014, although two of the most recent subjects are recognized by most states as part of Ukraine. The Russian constitution recognizes federal subjects as being equal subjects of the Russian Federation. The Russian Federation comprises of republics, cities of federal importance, krais, oblasts, an autonomous oblast, and autonomous okrugs. Each of the subjects has its own leader, a legislative body, and a constitutional court which is supported by the federal subjects’ constitution and legislation. The federal subjects are each represented by two delegates each in the Federal Assembly, but they differ on the degree of autonomy granted to each subject.
Out of the 85 federal subjects, 22 are republics. Republics are regions with non-Russian ethnic groups although many republics have Russians as the majority. A republic is named after the indigenous ethnic group common in the area although due to internal migration an ethnic group may not necessarily be the majority in the population of the republic. The republics were established in Soviet Russia when Vladimir Lenin gave Russian minorities the right to self-determination in 1917. However, after a series of wars, reforms, and agreements with the Russian federal government, secession is not an option for the republics, especially under President Putin. Republics are governed by their own constitution and retain the right to come up with their own official language. Republics enjoy extensive powers and have powerful executives who occasionally pass laws contradictory to the federal constitution, but the federal government is keen to quash any secessionist ideas and movements.
Cities of Federal importance have the status of both inhabited locality and a separate federal constituent. A federal city may constitute other cities and towns within it and maintains older structures of postal address systems. There are three federal cities in the Russian Federation out of the 85 federal subjects. These include the national capital Moscow and Saint Petersburg, two of the largest cities in the nation. The third and latest federal city is Sevastopol which is in the disputed region of Crimea that was annexed in 2014 but is still recognized as part of Ukraine.
Oblasts serve as a first level administrative unit and hold authority over a specific geographic territory. It consists of a state government and a democratically elected state legislature. The highest executive is a governor who is appointed by the President of Russia. Oblasts are the most common type of federal subjects, and there are 46 Oblasts out of the 85 federal subjects. The term oblast, when translated to English, refers to a province. Oblasts are further divided into raions, cities of oblast significance and autonomous okrugs. Raions are similar to districts and cities of oblast significance are district equivalent independent cities. Oblasts are usually named after the administrative center which tends to be the capital city or town of the Oblast.
Each Krai consists of a state government with authority over a definite geographical region with a legislative assembly and a state legislature. The highest executive is the governor who is appointed by the president. Only nine of the 85 federal subjects are Krai. The only difference between an oblast and a krai is tradition, as Krai was used to refer to territories at the edge of the main Russian state and was traditionally occupied by ethnic non-Russians. Legally there is no difference in status between an Oblast and a Krai.
An autonomous okrug is a federal subject consisting of an administrative division. Russia had four autonomous okrugs as of 2014 out of the 85 federal subjects. Three of the autonomous okrugs are subordinate to an Oblast, leaving Chukotka Autonomous Okrug as the only okrug that is not subordinate to an Oblast. Autonomous okrugs were initially established in the 1920s to provide autonomy to indigenous people in the northern areas of the Soviet Union. The 1977 constitution emphasized the use of “autonomous okrugs” as opposed to “national okrugs” as used earlier to distinguish them from other territorial and administrative units that did not have autonomy.
The Jewish Autonomous Oblast (JAO) is the only Autonomous Oblast in Russia as set out in Article 65 of the Constitution of Russia. It is located in the Russian Far East and was intended as an official Jewish territory in the 1940s when the Jewish people in the region were about 25% of the population. The JAO is the second official Jewish territory after Israel. The Jewish Autonomous Oblast is now mostly inhabited by ethnic Russians who make up 92.7% of the population according to the 2010 census as a majority of the Jews left for Tel Aviv after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Starting from 2005, six of the sparsely populated subjects were merged into more populated subjects in the hopes of economic revival. This merge ended in 2008 and the territories became known as "administrative-territorial regions with special status." These territories have been subject to disapproval as they are not recognized by the federal constitution. The current constitution of Russia, adopted in 1993, solved various legal conflicts but also introduced a proper administration system for the constituent subjects by reserving regional rights, introducing local self-government and, eliminated the right to secede from the country that was granted in the Soviet era. Under the policies of the current President Vladimir Putin, the federal legislature has reviewed the distribution of tax revenue and given more power to the federal authorities.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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