When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990’s, the nations who formed part of that Soviet Empire gradually reclaimed their independence. As such the notion of a USSR successor state is open to interpretation but it is generally recognised by the outside world that the Russian Federation has the best claim to that accolade as it was at the heart of the former Soviet Union (which many called a Russian empire in all but name) and has agreed to take on the Soviet Union’s international debts.
However, within the former Soviet Empire, the CIS is a sort of successor organisation, being a loose collection of many of the former Soviet states.
Fall of an Empire
With Communist rule being eradicated throughout Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union was financially bereft and on its way to extinction by the late 1980’s.
Its successor was the CIS, or the Commonwealth of Independent States. Headed by Russia as the largest former Soviet state, the CIS comprised of all former Soviet countries except for the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
The CIS was founded on 08th December 1991 and at the time, it consisted of just three member states – Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine. By the end of the month it had been joined by nine further countries with just the Baltic States remaining as notable absentees.
CIS gathers momentum
After declaring independence, many former Soviet countries found it a struggle to come to terms with life outside of a co-dependent empire. This was a view that was neatly summed up in 2001 by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma.
“Today we all realize we just can’t live apart from each other, neither economically, nor politically and socially,” Kuchma said at the time.
Kuchma went on to declare that the CIS had suddenly found itself as a major power on the world’s stage and he likened this sudden realisation to a religious epiphany.
“It took the Commonwealth leaders a whole decade to finally realize this simple truth,” Kuchma added “either we all saw the light, or maybe we’ve been given some help from the Lord.”
For a time, former Soviet nations participated as the CIS in the sporting arena as a single entity and for many casual observers, this brought the new organisation into world view. The simple fact that those former nations now play independently leads to a point of view that the CIS now longer exists but that simply isn’t true.
The CIS today
With Georgia’s withdrawal in 2008, the CIS now consists of ten member states – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
Although those countries are strictly speaking independent, the CIS still exists to assist with economy and free trade in much the same way as the European Union was set up to do.
Within the CIS, the Russian Federation is by far the largest country and when the Soviet Union fell, it contained 51% of the Communist Empire’s population and 71% of its territory. As a result of that, the UN recognises it as the true USSR successor and across the world, Soviet embassies were renamed as Russian.