History of the administrative division of Russia

The modern administrative-territorial structure of Russia is a system of territorial organization which is a product of a centuries-long evolution and reforms.

The first eight guberniyas established in 1708

Early history

The Kievan Rus' as it formed in the 10th century remained a more or less unified realm under the rule of Yaroslav the Wise (d. 1054), but in the later part of the 11th century, it disintegrated into a number of de facto independent and rivaling principalities, the most important of which were Grand Duchy of Galicia and Volhynia, Novgorod Republic, and Grand Duchy of Vladimir and Suzdal.

With the advance of Mongols and establishing of Golden Horde in 1240, many parts of Kievan Rus came under a direct administration of Sarai, while others became its dependencies. The three previously mentioned main centers were established as successors of the Kievan Rus. Most of Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia however became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and later gradually and completely coming under the direct administration of the Crown of Poland. Novgorod Republic was overran by the time well-established Grand Duchy of Moscow. The grand duchies of Lithuania and Moscow practically divided the former territories of Kievan Rus between each other, both struggling to gain the seat of Metropolitan of Kiev.

From the 13th century, the Russian principalities used an administrative subdivision into uyezds, with each such uyezd being subdivided into several volosts, some areas used division of pyatina. Voivodes were the officials appointed to administer and defend the uyezds.

By the 15th century, the Grand Duchy of Moscow was recognized as a direct successor of the Grand Duchy of Vladimir. It gradually incorporated all left out adjacent smaller duchies such as the Principality of Yaroslavl, Principality of Rostov and successfully conquered the Principality of Nizhny Novgorod-Suzdal, the Principality of Tver as well as the Novgorod Republic. Near the end of the 15th century the Golden Horde fell apart into several smaller khanates and Muscovy for the first time became a sovereign state.

At the start of the 16th century, the Grand Duchy of Moscow managed to annex the Pskov Republic and conquer the Grand Duchy of Ryazan as well as secure number of territories that belonged to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania such as the Upper Oka Principalities and Sloboda Ukraine, thus extending its territory far south. In 1708, the Oka principalities and Sloboda Ukraine were incorporated into the first Kiev Governorate. During the second half of the 16th century, the Grand Duchy of Moscow managed to conquer number of West-Siberian and Volga duchies and khanates such as Kazan Khanate, Siberia Khanate, Astrakhan Khanate, Great Nogai Horde and many others. Some of the territorial acquisitions, however, were lost during the Time of Troubles.

Soon after the Time of Troubles (Treaty of Polyanovka), the Grand Duchy of Moscow was able to recover the Duchy of Smolensk (Smolensk Voivodeship) and later annex territory of Left-bank Ukraine (Truce of Andrusovo).

Prior to the 18th century, the Tsardom of Russia was divided into a system of territorial units called razryads (literally order of units) as part of military reform of 1680.[1]

  • Moscow Razryad
  • Sevsk Razryad
  • Vladimir Razryad
  • Novgorod Razryad
  • Kazan Razryad
  • Smolensk Razryad
  • Ryazan Razryad
  • Belgorod Razryad, chartered in 1658 out of the Kiev Voivodeship
  • Tambov Razryad
  • Tula Razryad
  • Tobol Razryad, chartered no later than 1587 (first known Voivodeship)
  • Tom Razryad
  • Yenisei Razryad

During the 1680s, the Tsardom of Russia acquired a substantial expansion in Transbaikal after signing the Treaty of Nerchinsk with China (Qing dynasty). By this time (at the end of the 17th century), an extensive territory from Yenisei to the Sea of Okhotsk was secured through colonization. The discovery of the Bering Strait in 1728 confirmed the eastern borders of modern Russia. The eastward advance through Siberia extended the Tobol Razryad transforming it into overstretched territory that was initially in 1708 included into Siberia Governorate.

Imperial Russia

History of the
division of Russia

Administrative reforms by Peter the Great

Technically, the territorial-administrative reform started out in the Tsardom of Russia before the Imperial period. On December 29 [O.S. December 18], 1708, in order to improve the manageability of the vast territory of the state, Tsar Peter the Great issued an ukase (edict) dividing Russia into eight administrative divisions, called governorates (guberniyas), which replaced the 166 uyezds and razryads which existed before the reform:[2]

Governorates of the Russian Empire (1708-1726)
1708-1710 Kazan Ingermanland Azov   Smolensk    
1710-1713 Saint Petersburg
1713-1714 Moscow Riga
1714-1717   N. Novgorod
1717-1719 Astrakhan    
1719-1725   Nizhny Novgorod Reval
1725-1726 Voronezh
1726   Smolensk  
The Governorates of Archangelgorod, Kiev and Siberia remained constant between 1708 and 1726.

The reform of 1708 established neither the borders of the governorates nor their internal divisions.[2] The governorates were defined as the sets of cities and the lands adjacent to those cities.[2] Some older subdivision types also continued to be used.[2] Between 1710 and 1713, all governorates were subdivided into lots (Russian: доли), each governed by a landrat (ландрат).[2] Every governorate was administered by an appointed governor, who also headed a board of landrats. The lots' primary purpose was fiscal, and each one was supposed to cover 5,536 homesteads.[3]

In 1719, Peter enacted another administrative reform to fix the deficiencies of the original system, as the governorates were too big and unmanageable. This reform abolished the system of lots, dividing most of the governorates into provinces (провинции), which were further divided into districts (Russian: дистрикты).

During this time, territories were frequently reshuffled between the governorates, and new governorates were added to accommodate population growth and territorial expansion.

Russia in 1682–1762

Subsequent reforms

In 1727, soon after Peter the Great's death, Catherine I enacted another reform, which rolled back many of the previous reform's developments. The system of districts was abolished, and the old system of uyezds was restored. A total of 166 uyezds was re-established; together with the newly created uyezds, the Russian Empire had approximately 250.

The reform also reshuffled some territories. Narva Province was transferred from Saint Petersburg Governorate to Revel Governorate; Solikamsk and Vyatka Provinces were transferred from Siberia Governorate to Kazan Governorate; and Uglich and Yaroslavl Provinces were transferred from Saint Petersburg Governorate to Moscow Governorate. In addition, Belgorod, Oryol, and Sevsk Provinces of Kiev Governorate were reconstituted as Belgorod Governorate; and Belozersk, Novgorod, Pskov, Tver, and Velikiye Luki Provinces of Saint Petersburg Governorate were reconstituted as Novgorod Governorate.

The following years saw few changes. In 1728, Ufa Province was transferred from Kazan Governorate to Siberia Governorate, and in 1737, Simbirsk Province was created within Kazan Governorate.

Administrative reforms by Catherine the Great

By 1775, the existing system of administrative divisions proved inefficient, which was further underlined by Pugachev's Rebellion, and Catherine the Great issued a document known as Decree on the Governorates (Russian: Учреждение о губерниях).[4] The second part of the same decree was issued in 1780, which, however, contained very few significant changes with respect to the first part.[5]

A major administrative territorial restructuring of the Russian Empire after vast land acquisition from the Ottoman Empire and Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the late 18th century. The reform saw introduction of the office of viceroy (gosudarev namestnik) which later were transformed into a general governor. Gosudarev namestnik literally means an imperial representative to the land. During the reform several already existing governments (guberniya) were combined together under the office of the Russian viceroy and were called namestnichestvo. Those namestnichestvo were introduced onto the expanded territory as well, the only exclusion were the governments of Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In 1796 all namestnichetvo were officially renamed into general governments. General governments exercised a small degree of autonomy as certain laws varied from general government to another.[6]

Reforms in the 19th century

Governorates of the Russian Empire on the eve of the Russian Revolution

After the abolition of Russian serfdom in 1861, volosts became a unit of peasant's local self-rule. A number of mirs were united into a typical volost, which had an assembly consisting of elected delegates from the mirs. The self-government of the mirs and volosts was tempered by the authority of the police commissaries (stanovoy) and by the power of general oversight given to the nominated "district committees for the affairs of the peasants".

Reforms in the 20th century

By the 1910s, 104 administrative governorate units existed.

Subdivisions of the Russian Empire, c.1914
Russian CyrillicRomanisationAnglicisationAlternative Name(s)
European Russia or Ruthenia
Great Russia
Central or Muscovite Russia
Московская губернияMoskovskaya guberniyaMoscow Governorate
Калужская губернияKaluzhskaya guberniyaKaluga Governorate
Смоленская губернияSmolenskaya guberniyaSmolensk Governorate
Тверская губернияTverskaya guberniyaTver Governorate
Ярославская губернияYaroslavskaya guberniyaYaroslavl Governorate
Костромская губернияKostromskaya guberniyaKostroma Governorate
Нижегородская губернияNizhegovodskaya guberniyaNizhny Novgorod Governorate
Владимирская губернияVladimirskaya guberniyaVladimir Governorate
Рязанская губернияRyazanskaya guberniyaRyazan Governorate
Тульская губернияTul'skaya guberniyaTula Governorate
Орловская губернияOrlovskaya guberniyaOryol Governorate
Курская губернияKurskaya guberniyaKursk Governorate
Воронежская губернияVoronezhskaya guberniyaVoronezh Governorate
Тамбовская губернияTambovskaya guberniyaTambov Governorate
Far North or Novgorodian Russia
Архангельская губернияArkhangel'skaya guberniyaArkhangelsk Governorate
Олонецкая губернияOlonetskaya guberniyaOlonets Governorate
Санкт-Петербургская губернияSantk-Peterburgskaya guberniyaSaint Petersburg GovernoratePetrograd; formerly Swedish Ingria
Псковская губернияPskovskaya guberniyaPskov Governorate
Новгородская губернияNovgorodskaya guberniyaNovgorod GovernorateVeliky Novgorod
Вологодская губернияVologdskaya guberniyaVologda Governorate
Little Russia or the Zaporizhian Host
Черниговская губернияChernigovskaya guberniyaChernigov Governorate
Полтавская губернияPoltavskaya guberniyaPoltava Governorate
Харьковская губернияKhar'kovskaya guberniyaKharkov Governorate
Northwestern Krai
Ковенская губернияKovenskaya guberniyaKovno GovernorateKaunas, Kowno
Виленская губернияVilenskaya guberniyaVilna GovernorateVilnius, Wilno
White Russia
Витебская губернияVitebskaya guberniyaVitebsk GovernorateVitebskas, Witebsk
Могилевская губернияMogilevskaya guberniyaMogilev GovernorateMogiliauas, Mohylaw
Black Russia
Минская губернияMinskaya guberniyaMinsk GovernorateMinskas, Mińsk
Гродненская губернияGrodnenskaya guberniyaGrodno GovernorateGardinas
Southwestern Krai (Right-Bank Ukraine)
Холмская губернияKholmskaya guberniyaKholm GovernorateChelmas, Chełm
Red Russia
Волынская губернияVolynskaya guberniyaVolhynian GovernorateVolyn, Voluinė, Wołyń
Киевская губернияKiyevskaya guberniyaKiev Governorate (Kyiv)Kyiev, Kijevas, Kijów
Подольская губернияPodol'skaya guberniyaPodolian GovernoratePodolya, Podolien, Padole
Volga Tartary
Пермская губернияPermskay guberniyaaPerm Governorate
Вятская губернияVyatkskaya guberniyaVyatka Governorate
Казанская губернияKazanskaya guberniyaKazan Governorate
Уфимская губернияUfimskaya guberniyaUfa Governorate
Оренбургская губернияOrenburgskaya guberniyaOrenburg Governorate
Самарская губернияSamarskaya guberniyaSamara Governorate
Симбирская губернияSimbirskaya guberniyaSimbirsk Governorate
Пензенская губернияPenzenskaya guberniyaPenza Governorate
Саратовская губернияSaratovskaya guberniyaSaratov Governorate
Астраханская губернияAstrakhanskaya guberniyaAstrakhan Governorate
New Russia or Little Tartary
Область Войска ДонскогоOblast' Voiska DonskogoDon Cossack Host
Екатеринославская губернияYekaterinoslavskaya guberniyaEkaterinoslav Governorate
Херсонская губернияKhersonskaya guberniyaKherson GovernorateYedisan
Таврическая губернияTavricheskaya guberniyaTaurida Governorate
Бессарабская губернияBessarabskaya guberniyaBessarabian GovernorateMoldavia
Grand Principality of Finland (Swedish Österland)
Улеаборгская губернияUleaborgskaya guberniyaUleaborg GovernorateUleåborg, Oulu
Ва́заская губернияVázaskaya guberniyaVaasa GovernorateVaasa
Або-Бьернеборгская губернияAbo-Byerneborgskaya guberniyaAbo-Byerneborg GovernorateÅbo och Björneborg, Turku ja Pori
Нюландская губернияNyulyandskaya guberniyaNyland GovernorateUusimaa
Тавастгусская губернияTavastgusskaya guberniyaTavastehus GovernorateHäme
Санкт-Михельская губернияSankt-Mikhelskaya guberniyaSaint Michel GovernorateMikkeli
Выборгская губернияVyborgskaya guberniyaVyborg GovernorateViipuri
Куопиоская губернияKuopioskaya guberniyaKuopio Governorate
Baltic Governorates
Эстляндская губернияEstlyandskaya guberniyaEstonia GovernorateEestimaa, Estland; formerly Swedish Estonia
Лифляндская губернияLiflyandskaya guberniyaLivonia GovernorateLiivimaa, Livland; formerly Swedish Livonia
Курля́ндская губернияKurlyandskaya guberniyaCourland GovernorateKuršo, Kurzemes; formerly the Duchy of Courland
Vistula Krai or Congress Poland
Калишская губернияKalishskaya guberniyaKalisz GovernorateKalisz
Келецкая губернияKeletskaya guberniyaKelets GovernorateKielce
Ломжинская губернияLomzhskaya guberniyaLomzh GovernorateŁomża
Люблинская губернияLublinskaya guberniyaLublin Governorate
Петроковская губернияPetrokovskaya guberniyaPetrokov GovernoratePiotrków
Плоцкая губернияPlotskaya guberniyaPlotsk GovernoratePłock
Радомская губернияRadomskaya guberniyaRadom Governorate
Сувалкская губернияSuvalkskaya guberniyaSuvalki GovernorateSuwałki
Варшавская губернияVarshavskaya guberniyaWarsaw GovernorateWarszaw
Asian Russia or Great Tartary
Caucasus Viceroyalty
North Caucasus
Кубанская о́бластьKubanskaya oblastKuban Oblast
Черноморская губернияChernomorskaya guberniyaBlack Sea GovernorateCircassia
Терская о́бластьTerskaya oblastTerek Oblast
Ставропольская губернияStavropol'skaya guberniyaStavropol Governorate
Дагестанская о́бластьDagestanskaya oblastDagestan Oblast
South Caucasus
Сухумская округSukhumskaya okrugSukhum OkrugAbkhazia
Кутаисская губернияKutaisskaya guberniyaKutais Governorateformerly the Kingdom of Imereti
Батумская о́бластьBatumskaya oblastBatum Oblast
Тифлисская губернияTiflisskaya guberniyaTiflis GovernorateTbilisi; formerly the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti
Закатальская округZakatal'skaya okrugZakatal OkrugZaqatala
Бакинская губернияBakinskaya guberniyaBaku GovernorateShirvan
Елизаветпольская губернияYelizavetpol'skaya guberniyaElisavetpol GovernorateGanja
Карсская о́бластьKarsskaya oblastKars OblastErzurum
Эриванская губернияErivanskaya guberniyaErivan GovernorateYerevan
Steppes Krai (Kazakh Khanate)
Уральская о́бластьUral'skaya oblastUral Oblastformerly the Nogai Horde
Тургайская о́бластьTurgayskaya oblastTurgay Oblast
Акмолинская о́бластьAkmolinskaya oblastAkmolinsk OblastAkmola
Семипалатинская о́бластьSemipalatinskaya oblastSemipalatinsk Oblast
Russian Turkestan
Закаспийская о́бластьZakaspiyskaya oblastTranscaspian OblastTransoxiana
Хивинское ханствоKhivinskoye khanstvoKhanate of Khiva
Бухарский ЭмиратBukharskiy EmiratEmirate of Bukhara
Самаркандская о́бластьSamarkandskaya oblastSamarkand Oblast
Ферганская о́бластьFerganskaya oblastFergana Oblast
Семиреченская о́бластьSemirechenskaya oblastSemirechye Oblast"Seven Rivers"
Сырдарьинская о́бластьSyrdar'inskaya oblastSyr-Darya Oblast
Тобольская губернияTobol'skaya guberniyaTobolsk Governorate
Томская губернияTomskaya guberniyaTomsk Governorate
Енисейская губернияYeniseyskaya guberniyaYeniseysk Governorate
Иркутская губернияIrkutskaya guberniyaIrkutsk Governorate
Забайкальская о́бластьZabaykal'skaya oblastTransbaikal OblastTransbaikalia, Dauria
Якутская о́бластьYakutskaya oblastYakutsk OblastYakutia, Sakha
Урянхайская крайUryankhayskaya kraiUryankhay KraiTuva
Russian Far East
Амурская о́бластьAmurskaya oblastAmur OblastPriamurye, Outer Manchuria
Приморская о́бластьPrimorskaya oblastPrimorskaya Oblast"Maritime"
Камчатская о́бластьKamchatskaya oblastKamchatka Oblast
Сахалинская о́бластьSakhalinskaya oblastSakhalin Oblast

Soviet Russia

The Russian SFSR comprised 16 autonomous republics, 5 autonomous oblasts, 10 autonomous okrugs, 6 krais, and 40 oblasts.[when?]

Uyezds and volosts were abolished by the Soviet administrative reform of 1923–1929. Raions may be roughly called a modern equivalent of the uyezds, and selsoviets may be considered a modern equivalent of the volosts.

Russian Federation

The subdivision type of Federal District was created in May 2000 by Vladimir Putin as a part of a wider program designed to reassert federal authority. The original division was into seven federal districts, but in 2010 the North Caucasian Federal District was split off from the Southern Federal District, bringing the number to eight. In 2014, the annexation of Crimea resulted in the creation of a new Crimean Federal District, bringing the number to nine, but it was later merged into the Southern Federal District.



  1. Reforms of armed forces of 1680s
  2. Tarkhov, p. 65
  3. Pushkarev, p. 13
  4. Учреждение о губерниях 1775. Great Soviet Encyclopedia.
  5. Градовский, А. Д (1875). Начала русского государственного права (in Russian). Saint Petersburg.
  6. Tarkhov, S.A. Changes to the administrative-territorial division of Russia in the past 300 years. "Pervoye sentyabrya". 2001.