Russian Federation Federal state

Structures and competences

Article 5.1 of the 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation states that:

“The Russian Federation shall consist of republics, krays, oblasts, cities of federal significance, an autonomous oblast and autonomous okrugs, which shall have equal rights as constituent entities of the Russian Federation.”

There are six types of federal subject:

  • 22 republics with their own constitution
  • 9 krays, special-status administrative territories
  • 46 oblasts, special-status administrative regions
  • 3 cities of federal significance (Moscow, St Petersburg and Sevastopol, which act as separate regions within the subject or are enclaves)
  • 1 autonomous oblast, an autonomous region (the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, which continues to exist for historical reasons and is located on the border with China in Siberia; it was founded at Stalin’s behest in 1934 with Yiddish as its official language and has retained its status as a Jewish settlement)
  • 4 autonomous okrugs, national administrative territories (large, typically sparsely-populated territories that may be part of other subjects (oblasts) while remaining federal subjects in their own right; only the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug is not part of another subject).


All federal subjects belong to one of these categories.

Federal subjects do not have a right of secession.

The federal subjects are further subdivided into administrative districts, cities/towns and urban-type settlements under the jurisdiction of the federal subject, and into autonomous okrugs under the jurisdiction of the federal subject.

There are also other higher-tier and lower-tier administrative divisions. In Moscow, they are called municipal formations (this first subdivision of the upper tier is sometimes called an “administrative district”).

In St Petersburg, the term municipal okrug (or “administrative district”) is used to refer to the second subdivision of the lower tier.

These administrative divisions are similar to districts. Other types of division include rural settlements and urban settlements.

In Russia, the term “town/city” refers to an administrative subdivision, known as a municipality in some countries, which contains an urban settlement. Chekalin, the least populous town/city, has a population of just 1,000.

The term “urban municipality” is used to refer to an urban-type settlement. The name was formerly used in the USSR, Poland and Bulgaria, and is currently used in 10 former Soviet states.

It is an intermediate territorial and administrative subdivision which, by virtue of its characteristics and status, lies between the town/city and the rural settlement (village or other). An urban municipality does not necessarily differ from a rural municipality in terms of surface area or population, but rather on the basis of its socio-economic features that mean it is not economically dependent on agriculture. Most urban municipalities have a population of between 3,000 and 12,000.

For federal government oversight reasons, the federal subjects are grouped into eight federal districts, each administered by an envoy appointed by the President of Russia. The envoy has no constitutional power.

For economic and statistical purposes, the federal subjects are also grouped into 12 economic regions.

The economic regions are groupings of federal subjects created solely for economic and statistical purposes. In this sense, they differ from the federal districts, which have a specific administrative importance.

The majority of the former autonomous okrugs have merged with their original oblast or kray and are no longer autonomous. In addition, some oblasts have secured greater autonomy from the federation by merging into new krays or into an expanded republic.

The present-day Russian Federation (which was initially created with 89 federal subjects, all with equal rights) encourages subjects to merge. This is because many subjects, despite gaining full recognition after the collapse of the Soviet Union, are no longer economically viable. Eventually, the number is expected to decrease to 30 or 40 subjects.

Some mergers have already taken place under Vladimir Putin’s presidency. Other mergers were proposed by the federal authorities or by pro-Moscow factions within the federation, but such plans have been shelved since 2008.

The country is also divided into 25,000 municipalities. In 2003, the number of municipalities doubled from 12,000 to 24,134. The municipalities are divided by legal status as follows:

  • 516 okrugs
  • 1,801 municipal districts
  • 1,732 urban settlements
  • 19,849 rural settlements
  • 236 intra-urban territories in cities of federal significance (Moscow and St Petersburg).