What Was the USSR and Which Countries Were in It?

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Lasted From 1922–1991

A globe showing the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Photogal / Getty Images

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (also known as the USSR or the Soviet Union) consisted of Russia and 14 surrounding countries. The USSR's territory stretched from the Baltic states in Eastern Europe to the Pacific Ocean, including the majority of northern Asia and portions of central Asia.

The USSR in Brief

The USSR was founded in 1922, five years after the Russian Revolution overthrew the monarchy of Czar Nicholas II. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was one of the leaders of the revolution and was the first leader of the USSR until his death in 1924. The city of Petrograd was renamed Leningrad in his honor.

During its existence, the USSR was the largest country by area in the world. It included more than 8.6 million square miles (22.4 million square kilometers) and stretched 6,800 miles (10,900 kilometers) from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east.

The capital of the USSR was Moscow, which is also modern Russia's capital city.

The USSR was also the largest communist country. Its Cold War with the United States (1947–1991) filled most of the 20th century with tension that extended throughout the world. During much of this time (1927–1953), Joseph Stalin was the totalitarian leader. His regime is known as one of the most brutal in world history; tens of millions of people lost their lives while Stalin held power.

The decades after Stalin saw some reforms of his brutality, but Communist Party leaders became wealthy on the backs of the people. Bread lines were common in the 1970s as staples such as food and clothing were scarce.

By the 1980s, a new type of leader emerged in Mikhail Gorbachev. In an attempt to boost his country's sagging economy, Gorbachev introduced a pair of initiatives known as glasnost and perestroika.

Glasnost called for political openness and ended the banning of books and the KGB, allowed citizens to criticize the government, and allowed for other parties than the Communist Party to participate in elections. Perestroika was an economic plan that combined communism and capitalism.

Ultimately the plan was a failure, and the USSR was dissolved. Gorbachev resigned on December 25, 1991, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist six days later on December 31. Boris Yeltsin, a key leader of the opposition, later became the first president of the new Russian Federation.


The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was a somewhat unsuccessful effort by Russia to keep the USSR together in an economic alliance. It was formed in 1991 and included many of the independent republics that made up the USSR.

In the years since its formation, the CIS has lost a few members and other countries have never joined. By most accounts, analysts think of the CIS as little more than a political organization in which its members exchange ideas. Very few of the agreements that the CIS has adopted have, in reality, been implemented.

Countries in the USSR

Of the fifteen constituent republics of the USSR, three of these countries declared and were granted independence a few months preceding the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The remaining 12 did not become independent until the USSR fell completely on December 26, 1991.

  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus 
  • Estonia (Granted independence in September 1991 and is not a member of the CIS)
  • Georgia (Withdrew from the CIS in May 2005)
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Latvia (Granted independence in September 1991 and is not a member of the CIS)
  • Lithuania (Granted independence in September 1991 and is not a member of the CIS)
  • Moldova (Formerly known as Moldavia)
  • Russia
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan (Associate member of the CIS)
  • Ukraine (Participant, but not member, of the CIS; withdrew all representatives in 2018)
  • Uzbekistan


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Rosenberg, Matt. "What Was the USSR and Which Countries Were in It?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/what-was-the-ussr-1434459. Rosenberg, Matt. (2023, April 5). What Was the USSR and Which Countries Were in It? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-was-the-ussr-1434459 Rosenberg, Matt. "What Was the USSR and Which Countries Were in It?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-was-the-ussr-1434459 (accessed June 10, 2023).