What Is A Puppet Government?

Puppet governments have existed in the past and continue to exist even today.
  • A puppet government is a government whose actions and policies are controlled by a foreign power.
  • Puppet governments have existed since ancient times.
  • There are currently several puppet governments that control territory in both Europe and Asia.
  • Puppet governments are illegal under international law.

A puppet government is a government with no sovereign authority over its territory, whose actions and policies are controlled by a foreign power. Many puppet governments convey an image of sovereignty, but in reality, they cannot do anything without the consent of whichever foreign power controls them. Puppet governments have existed since ancient times, and still exist today. For the most part, they are set up following conquest, after a foreign power conquers the area in which they set up a puppet government. 

Characteristics Of A Puppet Government

Foreign powers establish puppet governments mainly for three reasons. The first reason is to use the puppet government as a tool by which to control, or at least pacify, the people of the territory for which it is given jurisdiction. Oftentimes, this involves oppressive methods. In most cases, puppet governments are protected by the armed forces of the foreign power that establishes them. Alternatively, puppet governments sometimes establish their own security apparatus in order to take the burden of keeping the subject people in line away from the controlling foreign power. 

Puppet governments
Russia has been accused of having puppet governments in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These two territories are recognized by most of the international community as being part of the republic of Georgia.

The second reason foreign powers establish puppet governments is to try and fool both the citizens under its control and the international community into believing that the territory runs its own affairs. Hence, a puppet government will use the national symbols of the country that it controls to make it look like it represents an independent nation-state. In addition, the members of the puppet government are usually people whose origins are from the territory it controls. In many cases, however, both the people that are the subjects of the puppet government and the international community do not recognize the puppet government’s legitimacy. Indeed, puppet governments and puppet states are illegal under international law.

The third reason that foreign powers set up puppet governments is so that they can advance their own agendas. Puppet governments help facilitate the agenda of the controlling foreign power by using the territory and resources of the puppet state. This can involve transferring the resources of the territory under the puppet government’s jurisdiction to the controlling foreign power, or even using puppet government-controlled territory as a base from which to launch further conquests.

Puppet Governments Of The Past

Horse drawn wagon passes billboard with Japanese plan for new city of Hsinking, Manchukuo. On the site of an old neglected town of Changchun, Hsinking (New Capital). Ca. 1934.

As previously mentioned, puppet governments have existed since ancient times. The Roman Empire, for example, established puppet governments in the territories that they conquered. More recently, during World War II, the Japanese had set up a puppet government in Manchuria, a region of northeastern China. After conquering the region, the Japanese installed the former emperor of China, Puyi, who was of Manchurian descent, as the leader of the new state of Manchukuo. The new entity even had a flag of its own.

Japanese in Manchukuo create a new 100,000 police force in 60 days. Japanese instructors from Tokyo drill peasants in reading fingerprints. The instructor has an interpreter.

But in practice, Manchukuo was a puppet state, and Puyi was the leader of a puppet government under Japanese control. Much of the international community did not recognize the independence of Manchuria, as they saw the reality that it was no more than a puppet state of Japan. During the period in which Puyi’s puppet government was in power, the Japanese used the vast natural resources of Manchuria to fuel their war efforts and make further conquests. 

Puppet Governments Today

Puppet governments are not just a phenomenon of the past. Several puppet governments exist in the world today. Russia, for example, has been accused of having puppet governments in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These two territories are recognized by most of the international community as being part of the republic of Georgia. In 2008, however, Russia sent military forces to occupy the two territories. Shortly thereafter, they declared the two territories to be independent countries with their own governments. In reality, though, these governments were set up by the Russians to legitimize their control over Georgian territory.

The flags of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus fly side by side at Bellapais Abbey in Northern Cyprus. Editorial credit: ATGImages / Shutterstock.com

Turkey also maintains a puppet government on the island of Cyprus. In theory, this government controls a sovereign state called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. In practice, however, the government was installed by Turkey after its invasion of the northern part of Cyprus in 1974. For this reason, only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, whereas the rest of the international community recognizes the Republic of Cyprus in the island’s south as the only legitimate state on the island.

Currently, there are several puppet governments in control of parts of Europe and Asia. These include puppet governments backed by Russia in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia; the Armenian-backed government in the Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Houthi regime that presently controls most of Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula, which is supported by Iran.


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