I am not sure what the criteria are to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council, but I do wonder how did Russia manage to keep its veto power after the dissolution of the Soviet Union?

I think, after what happened to the USSR in 1991, the country lost some of its power and even its name changed. It was an opportunity for the other countries such as USA, China, France, and the United Kingdom to get rid of Russia once and for all from the UN Security Council, but that did not happen. Why not?


9 Answers 9


Essentially, you got a permanent seat on the Security Council if you were one of the major powers who won WW2 and went about setting up the post-war peace organisation, i.e the United Nations. When the Soviet Union (which was a union of multiple soviet republics) dissolved, Russia claimed itself as the successor state on the grounds it contained 51% of the population and 77% of the territory of the Soviet Union. They thus agreed to inherit all international treaties and responsibilities of the Soviet Union and were internationally recognised as such. As such, it was perfectly legitimate for them to inherit the seat on the Security Council. A similar example might be if Scotland had left the UK, the remaining state would not have lost its permanent seat.

As the UN says in this article

All international agreements, such as those governing membership of the UN Security Council, relate to a nation as a legal entity. Even if that nation changes it name, has a part of it split off and declare independence, or undergoes a revolution or any other form of change of government, that nation is still considered to be the same legal entity. It is still bound by all the same laws and treaties as before and it still enjoys the same statuses as before.

The article goes on to say

...when the USSR broke up in 1991 Russia successfully argued that it should be recognised as the continuing state and so it inherited, among other things, the USSR’s permanent seat on the Security Council.

This is partially because Russia received the backing of lots of the other former soviet states to remain as the successor state.

Russia inherited all the Soviet Union's assets and also its foreign debt of US$70bn.

  • 77
    I suppose agreeing to take on the debt is a great way to get creditors to back up your claim! Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 11:33
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    And a ton of nukes probably helps as well.
    – jcaron
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 22:54
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    @Thanos Then most likely the surviving entity would rename itself to England. But since England has 84% of the UK population, and the capital city and most of the administrative infrastructure are sited in England, then England would undoubtedly pick up the "UK" position in the UN.
    – Graham
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 7:15
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    @ceejayoz The pro-independence campaign intended to de-nuclearise Scotland, and would have sought to repatriate the nukes back to the United Kindgom.
    – James_pic
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 13:58
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    @Jamespic Of course this is hypothetical. But the Czech and Slovak population were only spilt 10m versus 5m. England on its own has 55m of the 65m people in the UK, which is pretty clearly an overwhelming majority. And that's before we consider that much of the world uses "UK", "Britain" and "England" interchangeably.
    – Graham
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 16:29

When a country dissolves, merges, or suffers some other major changes, it's customary that the new country which emerges from this process inherits the rights and duties of the former - for example, international debt but also membership in international organizations and treaties. When a country splits, some negotiation is needed in order to decide which of the new countries inherits or other some kind of agreement.

Russia inheriting most of the status and international positions of the former USSR is nothing strange. It was a pretty straightforward process. As for why the chance of "getting rid" of them wasn't taken:

  • Nobody wanted to "get rid" of them. The Security Council is an organization of peacekeeping. Notwithstanding all its defects, which are many, it's better to have Russia at the table than not. The Security Council, just like the UN in general, gives a pretense of "international law" to the decisions it agrees upon. A Security Council with just France, the UK, and the USA is not a UN Security Council: it's a NATO Council, and you can count on it that Russia and China would make their own versions. In the end, the United Nations would split into several Not-So-United Nations.

  • China would have vetoed any initiative towards the expulsion of Russia, knowing they could be next.

  • If you start kicking permanent members out of the Security Council, maybe some countries will start thinking about why there must be permanent members at all, with veto power, or why they shouldn't be one of them. That's a can of worms the current permanent members would rather leave unopened.

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    I think this is the core reason. The NATO powers surely could have bent/rewritten the international laws if they had really wanted to (as victors of the Cold War with no rival to stop them). But it was very pragmatic to fasten the status quo before Germany, Japan, India etc. started thinking too much about alternative setups of the Council.
    – Annatar
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 10:46
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    It's also interesting to note China was in a somewhat similar position in 1971, when the seat of the Republic of China was awarded to the People's Republic of China after everybody finally agreed the PRC was the one and only China, and that was well after the PRC controlled all but Taiwan. Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 12:07
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    @T.E.D. As AmiralPatate notes, it's not only that China could have been next, but it had already been there, from 1949 to 1971 when its seat at the Council was occupied by Taiwan.
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 14:23
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    @Rekesoft - The Republican government of China that originally held the Security Council seat (as a US ally in WWII) was chased to Taiwan, where it still resides. Its a little backwards to talk like this was "Taiwan" somehow taking China's rightful seat, when if anything the opposite happened. Admittedly, that was just a matter of admitting political reality, and rightly done, but still the only party to this that has any cause whatsoever to be sore about having a seat taken away is the Republic of China (ROC).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 14:41
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    @Rekesoft - I agree it would be totally unrealistic, but not because of Russia's physical size. If that were a reasonable critera, Canada as #2 should be on there. See my answer here for more info on why the UNSC permanent membership is made up the way it is, and how realistic it would be for it to ever change.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 14:47

After the dissolution of the USSR, a commonwealth was created called Commonwealth of Independent States. This organization is a military and economic alliance between former USSR nations (and open to foreign nations also).

A protocol was signed between the founders called Alma-Ata Protocol effectively deciding that the Russian Federation (RSFSR) was to assume the Soviet Union's UN membership, including its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. And I quote (Blum, 1992):

Furthermore, in Article 1 of the fifth declaration, entitled ‘On UN Membership’, the eleven signatories agreed that ‘Member states of the Commonwealth support Russia in taking over the USSR membership in the UN, including permanent membership in the Security Council.’

The fate of the Soviet Union was sealed on 25 December 1991 with the resignation of its President, Mikhail S. Gorbachev. One day earlier, on 24 December 1991, the Permanent Representative of the USSR to the United Nations, Ambassador Y. Vorontsov, transmitted to the Secretary-General of the United Nations a letter from the President of the Russian Federation, Boris N. Yeltsin, stating that:

the membership of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the United Nations, including the Security Council and all other organs and organizations of the United Nations system, is being continued by the Russian Federation (RSFSR) with the support of the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. In this connection, I request that the name ‘Russian Federation’ should be used in the United Nations in place of the name ‘the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’. The Russian Federation maintains full responsibility for all the rights and obligations of the USSR under the Charter of the United Nations, including the financial obligations. I request that you consider this letter as confirmation of the credentials to represent the Russian Federation in United Nations organs for all the persons currently holding the credentials of representatives of the USSR to the United Nations.

As for the legality of the transfer of powers within the UN own protocols Blum (1992) also comments on that:

II. Does the Change of Name Affect a State’s Membership in the United Nations?


Consequently, the change of name per se from ‘Soviet Union’ to ‘Russian Federation’ does not affect the question of the UN membership of Russia if it can be established that there is continuity and identity, for the purposes of international law, between the former Soviet Union and the Russian Federation.

So it would take a quite agressive diplomatic (perhaps worse) maneuvering to remove powers from Russia.


The precedent for succession of security council seats was established in 1971 when RoC (Taiwan) lost its seat to PRC (Communist China).

This rested on a 1950's resolution (396) about how to resolve disputes of recognition (aimed at delaying exactly that outcome). It says the general assembly settles the matter.

When Russia declared itself the entitled to the USSR's seat the breakaway republics or some government in exile could have tried to get broad recognition, but very clearly that was never going to happen; the USSR had been dominated by Russia and Russia was the most globally capable state post-breakup.

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    Why "very clearly"? Ukraine, at the time, had 50 million people to Russia's 150 million. It also had roughly the same (maybe slightly smaller) percentage of ethnic Russians. Since countries were being formed anew, the historical fact of that Ukraine's capital had been the 1st historical capital of Russia also gave Ukraine a claim. The clarity is present even less so in the present day when a few of Russia's exiled politicians live and actively work in Ukraine.
    – grovkin
    Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 14:24
  • @grovkin Ukraine as one of the most anticommunistic states becoming succesor of USSR, it can´t work.
    – convert
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 11:51

As others have said this is because Russia is the successor state to the soviet union.It Seems like your other question is stemming from a misunderstanding of the purpose of UNSC. The countries with permanents seats already have the political and/or military power to try and shape world events to suit their interest. When there are conflicting interests at play, UNSC merely provides an initial mechanism for these nations to communicate their positions and find a peaceful solution. If that fails they can always go back to playing their geopolitical games.

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    Russia is NOT a successor state to the Soviet Union. It may have 75% of fUSSSR territory, but it has less than 50% of Soviet Union's population. And a country is its people.
    – grovkin
    Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 14:13
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    @grovkin In International Law, the only things that count are what the rest of the world thinks, says, and does. The rest of the world - at least the important countries - accepted the "successor state" claim (see the other answers), and that's what counts. As a result Russia is de facto the successor state. You might say that a country is what the rest of the world accepts - or is forced to accept - as one.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Jul 29, 2018 at 20:59
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    @Sjoerd, the rest of the world does not accept that claim. Soviet Union collapsed. It died. Russia was allowed to accept its place in the UN because it was the guardian of SU's nukes -- not because it was seen as a successor state. The successor state claim has been resurrected by the reactionaries both in Russia (who are pining for former glory) and in the West who want to explain away RF's new belligerence. But neither RF, nor anyone other country saw Russia as a SU. This is why any attempts by RF to occupy Ukraine or Georgia are seen as blanket aggression and not as domestic disputes.
    – grovkin
    Commented Jul 29, 2018 at 21:32
  • @grovkin The top answer quotes the UN's own stance: "Even if that nation changes it name, has a part of it split off and declare independence, or undergoes a revolution or any other form of change of government, that nation is still considered to be the same legal entity." Yes, the USSR had all of those. But 1) the RF was willing to accept the status of successor state, 2) all other former soviet republics agreed with it (see another answer), and 3) the rest of the world accepted it. As a result, the RF is for all practical purposes the successor state.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 20:06
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    @Sjoerd, this isn't a nation's part splitting off. Russia was one of USSR's administrative subdivisions. This is like Germany splitting into its provinces and Bovaria claiming to be the successor state to Germany. It's not all that clear that RF is the proper successor state to USSR even historically. The first capital of "Russia" was Kiev (current capital of Ukraine). Pre-USSR capital of Russian Empire was St Petersburg -- not Moscow. No one agreed to successor claim to the extent to which it is being pushed now. Only to a much more limited scope.
    – grovkin
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 21:59

The Russian Federation did not "keep" the veto power, since previously it did not have it. It took over from the USSR its seats in the UN General Assembly and on the UN Security Council with all attendant rights and responsibilities, including the USSR's veto power.

What happened was that on 24 December 1991 the President of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, wrote to the UN Secretary-General to say that the Russian Federation maintained full responsibility for all the rights and obligations of the USSR under the UN Charter. He requested that all persons at the UN who had USSR credentials should have their credentials changed to ones of the Russian Federation. The Secretary-General informed the member states, the President of the General Assembly, and the Security Council, and there was no objection.

There was also a statement by the Security Council that the Russian Federation was recognised as taking over all the USSR's rights and responsibilities under international treaties.

There must have been an arrangement by which the Russian Federation took over USSR state financial assets held abroad (bank accounts and rights and responsibilities under sovereign debt arrangements for example) but I am not sure it has been made public.


While this answer is a fairly complete answer, it might be added for clarity that—although Russia was much weaker than the Soviet Union—it inherited the main nuclear arsenal and most of the military power of the USSR, as well as the capital Moscow and most of the equipment, factories, and Soviet infrastructure. A nuclear Russia was still one of the most powerful nations on the planet, although weaker than its predecessor SSR. Though there were UN arrangements which legitimized Russia's inheritance of the USSR's position, they were actually underwritten by Russia's inheritance of most of the USSR's military power.

What i most want to mention is that although there are numerous regulation and articles at UN and it's security council but there exist a much higher unwritten rule as the spirit of the Security Council and its the Rule of Power. being a permanent member of the security council and owning a veto right is all about power; you have power so you are a permanent member, witch in return guarantees your power. Russia without having the above mentioned super power factors never could sustain in the security council as permanent member because it's rival were well aware about the USSR born baby now called russia.

  • Sorry you're getting downvoted. You're obviously correct, as shown by the 50+ upvotes for comments saying the exact same thing above. Maybe you should go into greater detail about Russia's recovery of nuclear weapons from Kazakhstan &c. and link to some sources.
    – lly
    Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 13:47
  • @lly, this maybe a subtlety of the language. The "how" and the "why" are very distinct and different in English. The OP question was about "how", while this answer, and a number of other answers here, attempt to answer the "why" question. The "why" question is inherently opinion-based and such questions are not welcomed in this community. The 2 answers which do answer the "how" question are by h34 and armatita. I up-voted both of them.
    – grovkin
    Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 14:33
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    @grovkin Thank you for explaining your reasoning, but it's still badly taken. International diplomacy is the art of dressing up military and cultural realities with nicer language and forms that help avoid still more conflict; this is an answer to 'how' as well as 'why', although it should go into greater detail about Russia's recovery of the Soviet military and nuclear apparatus. That it is a perfectly good answer, again, is shown by the massive number of upvotes to the comments saying the exact same thing. It should be included within h34 and Armatita's answers as well.
    – lly
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 2:34

Membership in the UN Security Council is about one thing and one thing only - military power. If a nation has the capability to initiate a global nuclear war, it will be given a permanent seat. If not, it will never be given one. And since Russia retained the USSR's ability of burning most of the world's major cities to the ground, they've been able to retain their veto power on the Security Council.

I presume this also means that France and UK could be expelled from the council in the future as they're far behind on nuclear armaments, however that is unlikely to happen as long as the US is their major ally. Likewise India, Pakistan or Israel could in theory be given a spot if their nuclear arsenal becomes a significant threat to NATO, China or Russia.

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    You, too, are falling in the trap of justifying the action rather than explaining how it happened. The question was "how", not "why".
    – grovkin
    Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 23:00

The grant of the seat was certainly not regular. The best way to explain it is that it was given as an emeritus seat.

The procedure for granting UN membership was not followed. And this has been widely documented. The Russian Federation claim of its right to occupy the seat was not met with challenges at the time.

However, if a de jure claim is pressed, at the UN, it is not clear that Russia's possession of the seat would survive.

There is a few claims which are popular, but wrong, as to why it happened

It was just a change of a name of a country. (wrong)

This is wrong on its face. The USSR dissolved by a proclamation, formally adopted on December 26th, 1991, by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the de jure governing committee of the USSR. The proclamation recognized the 15 "republics" of the USSR as new sovereign states and called on all of them to respect each other's sovereignty.

The Russian Federation is a successor state of the USSR. (correct, but irrelevant)

All 15 of the administrative units of the USSR, called "republics," were successor states by the UN definition of what a successor state is. A successor state is a state which inherits a territory of a state which no longer exists. So, for example, both East and West Germanies were successor states of Germany just as the modern-day Germany is a successor state of both East and West Germany.

There is no procedure for any, or all, successor states taking up UNSC seats of the predecessor states.

The only other time this issue had come up was when PRC replaced Taiwan, a founding member of the UN, at the UNSC. But this was not because the question of succession was taken up. China is considered to be in a formal state of a civil war. Both PRC and Taiwan claim to be the true Chinese government. So the question, taken up by the general assembly was "what is the true China?" Because the answer was "PRC," PRC took up China's seat at the UNSC.

Since the UNSC seat is legitimately Soviet Union's seat, it can be (procedurally) given to Russia if the UN General Assembly votes that the Russian Federation is now the true Soviet Union. However, no such vote has taken place. So this path to acceptance, while likely to succeed, has not been taken.

Russia was one of the countries which won WWII. (wrong)

It is true that the UNSC was formed by the principals of the victory in WWII.

However, while it is a common misconception to refer to the Soviet Union as "Russia," it is more of a short-short hand rather than a de jure name. The Russian Federation did not participate in WWII as a country. It participated in WWII as an administrative unit of the Soviet Union. Here is the list of the leaders of Russia during WWII:

enter image description here

One may notice that none of them are "Joseph Stalin," the leader of the USSR (who directed Soviet Union's war efforts and who was one of the leaders responsible for the founding of the UN).

UNSC is the collection of countries which have a nuclear arsenal. (a completely made up claim)

At the time of the formation of the UN only the US had nuclear weapons.

Today a number of countries other than the UNSC members have nuclear weapons (India, Pakistan, assumed-but-not-confirmed Israel, possibly North Korea).

There is simply no merit to this claim at all. It's an opinion which some people express as to why they personally think that Russia should be a UNSC member. But that's not the same as it being an actual de jure, or de facto, reason for it.

Such a standard is not in any way agreed upon, nor is it outlined (or even mentioned) in any procedure for the acceptance to the UNSC.

  • 1
    I think this answer doesn't really answer the question "How did Russia retain the UNSC veto power of the Soviet Union?". It provides reasons why Russia should not have gotten the permanent membership in the UNSC, but it fails to explain how Russia gained and retains those veto powers nevertheless.
    – Philipp
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 15:27
  • @Philipp The answer does give the reason why Russia got the seat. It was given as an emeritus seat. The reasons listed in the answer are not the reasons why Russia shouldn't get it. They are the reasons which are commonly believed to be the reasons why Russia got it, but which aren't true. When explaining anything it is often helpful to not only say what it is, but also what it isn't. This makes explanations more complete.
    – wrod
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 22:44
  • @Phillipp furthermore, some things happen not for a "good reason," but because of a flimsy reason which just happens to go unopposed by anything or anyone. In such situations, it can be tempting to create justifications claiming that more solid reasons were the actual reasons (rather than the one that it was). In order to giver a full explanation, in such situations, it becomes essential to debunk the seemingly-solid reasons which aren't the actual reasons why it happened.
    – wrod
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 23:04

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