Philately and postal history of the Former Soviet Union

After the USSR: how 15 republics handled the mail

Nearly 20 years ago the Berlin wall fell, and over the next few years the countries of eastern Europe slowly moved from communism to free elections.  After the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union agreed to give up its monopoly of power in February 1990, Lithuania delcared reindependence in March, followed by Estonia and Latvia later in the summer.  Although the Soviet authorities attemped to suppress nationalism the government recognised the independence of the Baltic states on 6 September 1991 the Gorbachev government continued to aim for an economic union of the remaining states.  However, Russian president Yeltsin decided to disband the USSR in accordance with the Treaty of the Union of 1922 and thereby remove Gorbachev and the Soviet government from power.

In Decmber 1991 the Ukrainian referendum voted for independence and following this the leaders of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine declared the Soviet Union dissolved, replacing it with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).   There were doubts over the validity of moves to effect the dissolution of the Soviet Union, since they were signed by only five of the Soviet Republics. However, on December 21, 1991, representatives of all member republics except Georgia signed the Alma-Ata Protocol, in which they confirmed the dissolution of the Union. That same day, all former-Soviet republics agreed to join the CIS, with the exception of the three Baltic States.  By December 31, 1991, all official Soviet institutions had ceased operations as individual republics assumed the central government's role.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union 15 independent republics were renewed or created in the vocabulary of philately.  In alphabetical order: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russian Federation, Tadjikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine & Uzbekistan.

Being former constituents of the Union, the former autonomous republics already had the trappings of nationalist status - flags, arms, language, anthems - but they did not have their own postal services or stamps.  The creation of what was effectively 15 newly independent states heralded an exciting period of philately and postal history, as they declared independence or had it thrust upon them. Some of these states had issued stamps before, but others, whose status had been established by the USSR, were new. The Baltic States - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - were well prepared for their independent status due to close ties with Scandinavia and the west, and issued stamps in 1991. Further east and south, other new republics - not immediately able to create similar links - were left stranded with only stamps of the USSR. These remained valid - at least initially - but were not, of course, universally popular.

When I started this sub-site in 1998 I intended that these pages would provide information about modern postal history in the countries of the Former Soviet Union (FSU) and wrote:

This is a vast and under-researched area, and the pages will be expanded only slowly as my collection is sorted and researched, so please be patient if everything seems to be quiet for too long. The emphasis will be on text information and images of stamps, etc, so you won't see a lot of fancy graphics! Following this general introduction I intend to provide detailed information on the modern philatelic history of the 15 countries. There are some pages showing their stamps, and the different ways they showed the postage paid on letters. 

Unfortunately I haven't had the time, since 2002, to do any more research into the thousands of covers that I have from Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Russia and Georgia etc, but I am always hopeful that I will be able to allocate some time to this again soon!   Recent changes to my GB new issue dealing activities, and interest in the FSU area in an online forum have sparked my interest.  Oh, and since these pages were previously hosted by (Yahoo's) Geocities organisation which has now decided to stop free hosting, it made sense to move the pages to our own domain and to tidy them up along the way. ( For the record, and to help search engines, this information was previously located at 

The English versions of the country and other placenames may be spelt in various ways according to how the 'Russian' or Cyrillic spellings are transliterated. I have tried to be consistent: the Ukrainian version of Cyrillic is not the same as the Russian, and some of the central asian republics are now using Turkic Latin alphabets, which are different again. In these pages I refer to some of the semi-autonomous areas within the former USSR countries, and may include some of the background or history of these states. It is not my intention to offend anybody from any of these areas or any of the adjacent areas with which there may be or have been reported disputes. Apart from the philaelic research, anything you read here has been taken from British press reports, international publications, reference books, or from other internet sites.

Examples of the sort of cover which sparked my interest in this area.

I had never collected the stamps of the Soviet Union, my interests lying in British Commonwealth and Scandinavia.  But browsing at Stampex in London, probably in 1993, I found the covers shown here:

POSTAL HISTORY embraces every aspect of postal services includes the collection of stamps and postal labels on emvelopes or 'cover'. Some collectors think that postal history should be confined to either the pre-stamp period (ie before 1840), or at least to the 19th century. Postal historians with a broader outlook recognise that postal history is still being made. The use of, for instance, emergency provisional stamps on cover is a vital part of philately.

Use of stamps on cover lends credibility to those stamps, but covers are not foolproof. Unfortunately some unscrupulous 'biznizmen' in the countries of the FSU also manufactured bogus and forged covers (some apparently between the different republics) using both genuine and forged postmarks. So covers showing genuine internal commercial use, and international use outside the FSU give more weight to the validity of the stamps. 

The republics

Armenia. Stamps were first issued in 1919 overprinted on Russia; 1922 issued own definitives; 1923 used stamps of the Transcaucasian Federation; 1924 used stamps of the USSR. Independent state December 1991.

Azerbaijan. Definitive stamps were first issued 1919; in 1923 used stamps of the Transcaucasian Federation; in 1924 used stamps of the USSR. Declared independent of the USSR August 1991.

map of Belarus 1k.At present only BELARUS is represented in detail. There are a number of pages with illustrations of stamps, and covers with emergency surcharges and other markings.
Belarus' or Byelorussia. 1920 issues allegedly from here are now believed to be bogus. Declared independence in September 1991, the first stamps were issued in 1992. A founder-member of the UNO, despite being part of the USSR.

Estonia. Stamps first issued in 1918; Estonian SSR stamps in 1940; USSR, then German stamps used in 1941; USSR stamps used again in 1944. Declared independence 20 August 1991. Stamp issues again in 1991.

Georgia. The 1919 issues of the Georgian republic inscribed in French when Georgia was under Turkish, then British occupation (see Batum in the catalogues). A Soviet republic in 1922, Georgia used stamps of the Transcaucasian Federation from 1923. Declared independence 9 April 1991. The first "GEORGIA" stamps were issued in 1993.

Kazakhstan. A central asian republic which declared independence from the USSR on 16 December 1991. First stamps in 1991.

Kirghizstan. A central asian republic which declared independence from the USSR in September 1991. First stamps in 1991.

Latvia. The first stamps in 1918 were printed on German army maps. From 1944 stamps of the USSR were used, and in 1991 the first stamps of the independent republic were issued, some overprinted on USSR. Declared in May 1990 that Soviet occupation in 1940 was unlawful, and independence conceded by USSR in September 1991.

Lithuania. The first primitive stamps were issued in 1918. The Lithuanian SSR was formed in 1940, and in 1941 German stamps overprinted LIETUVA were used. From 1944 stamps of the USSR were used, and the first stamps of the independent republic were issued in 1990. Lithuania has used three currencies since 1990, with interesting results, worthless kopeck stamps being twice revalued. Declared in March 1990 that 1918 constitution was still valid; independence was conceded by USSR in September 1991.

Moldova. The stamp issuing territory of Moldavia and Wallachia, which became Roumania, at one time included the whole of Bessarabia. The border between the Soviet Union and the rest of Europe moved frequently during the 20th century, and Bessarabia ended up in the USSR, either in Moldavia or Ukraine. The Moldavian SSR became Moldova in December 1991. Two regions declared independence from Moldova in 1992.

Russia. Until 1918 there was no country name on its stamps. Kerensky's "broken chain" stamp was inscribed (cyrillic) ROSSIA, but on all other stamps only intials were used, first RSFSR (PCíCP) and in 1923 USSR, or CCCP. In 1991 stamps were inscribed ROSSIJA in latin and cyrillic type. Local overprinted stamps were legally issued in the city of St.Petersburg.

Tadjikistan. A central asian republic which adopted a declaration of republican sovereignty in August 1990. First stamps in 1991.

Turkmenistan. A central asian republic which adopted a declaration of independence in October 1991. First stamps in 1991.

Ukraine. The first Ukraine stamps in 1918 were overprinted on RSFSR stamps. Definitives were issued in 1919, and then Ukrainian SSR stamps. In 1924 stamps of the USSR were overprinted YCCP, after which USSR stamps were used unoverprinted. During occupation in 1941-3 German stamps were overprinted UKRAINE. Independence was declared in December 1991 and brought a feeling of philatelic deja vu as USSR stamps were overprinted with the trident symbol first used in 1918. The republic of Crimea, politically and linguistically closer to Russia wanted independence from Ukraine and  issued overprinted USSR & Ukraine stamps.

Uzbekistan. A central asian republic which adopted a declaration of sovereignty in June 1990 and independence in August 1991. First stamps in 1991.

In the period 1989-91 the USSR had issued 'omnibus' sets or series of stamps in a theme, with a stamp for each republic.  For one of these, showing traditional musical instruments, stamps were issued by the USSR in 1989 (4), 1990 (4), and 1991 (3), leaving the Tadjikistan, Turkmenistan, Armenia and Estonia designs unissued. Only the Tadjikistan and Turkmenistan designs were issued by the new republics, in 1992. Other similar 'sets' include:

Nature reserves 1992 - Russia, Moldova & Kirghistan.
Folk Crafts 1992 - Kirghistan, Tadjikistan(93), Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan.
Art - Kazakhstan & Kirghistan 1992, Georgia 1993
Buildings - Moldova, Tadjikistan, Uzbekistan

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