Puppet state

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A puppet state, puppet régime, puppet government or dummy government[1] is a state that is de jure independent but de facto completely dependent upon an outside power and subject to its orders.[2] Puppet states have nominal sovereignty, except that a foreign power effectively exercises control through economic or military support.[3] By leaving a local government in existence the outside power evades all responsibility, while at the same time successfully paralysing the local government they tolerate.[1][how?]

Puppet states differ from allies, who choose their actions of their own initiative or in accordance with treaties they have voluntarily entered. Puppet states are forced into legally endorsing actions already taken by a foreign power.


Puppet states are "endowed with the outward symbols of authority",[4] such as a name, flag, anthem, constitution, law codes, motto, and government, but in reality are appendages of another state which creates,[5] sponsors or otherwise controls the puppet government. International law does not recognise occupied puppet states as legitimate.[6]

Puppet states can cease to be puppets through:

  • military defeat of the "master" state (as in Europe and Asia in 1945),
  • absorption into the master state (as in the early Soviet Union),
  • achievement of independence


The term is a metaphor which compares a state or government to a puppet controlled by a puppeteer with strings.[7] The first recorded use of the term "puppet government" was in 1884, in reference to the Khedivate of Egypt.[8][unreliable source?]

In the Middle Ages, vassal states existed based on delegation of the rule of a country by a king to noble men of lower rank. Since the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, the concept of a nation came into existence where sovereignty was connected more to the people who inhabited the land than to the nobility who owned the land.

An earlier similar concept is suzerainty, the control of the external affairs of one state by another.[citation needed]

Nineteenth-century examples

French revolutionary and Napoleonic clients

The First French Empire and its satellite states in 1812

The Batavian Republic was established in the Netherlands under French revolutionary protection.

In Italy, the French First Republic encouraged a proliferation of small republics in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, known as sister republics.

In Eastern Europe, Napoleon's First French Empire established the Polish client state of the Duchy of Warsaw.[9]

British Empire

Map of the British Indian Empire, with princely states in yellow

In 1896, Britain established a state in Zanzibar.

Early twentieth-century examples

World War II

Imperial Japan

During Japan's imperial period, and particularly during the Pacific War (parts of which are considered the Pacific theatre of World War II), the Imperial Japanese government established a number of dependent states.

Nominally sovereign states

Location of Manchukuo (red) within Imperial Japan's sphere of influence
Wang Jingwei receiving German diplomats as head of state of the Reorganised Nationalist Government of the Republic of China in 1941

Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy

German-occupied Europe at the height of the Axis conquests in 1942

Several European governments under the domination of Germany and Italy during World War II have been described as "puppet régimes". The formal means of control in occupied Europe varied greatly. These states fall into several categories.

Existing states in alliance with Germany and Italy

Existing states under German or Italian rule

New states formed to reflect national aspirations

States and governments under the control of Germany and Italy

Italian Social Republic

  • Italian Social Republic Italian Social Republic (1943–1945, known also as the Republic of Salò) – General Pietro Badoglio and King Victor Emmanuel III withdrew Italy from the Axis powers and moved the government to Southern Italy, already controlled by the Allies. In response, the Germans occupied Northern Italy and founded the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI) with Benito Mussolini as its "Head of State" and "Minister of Foreign Affairs". While the RSI government had some trappings of an independent state, it was completely dependent both economically and politically on Germany.

British examples during and after World War II

The Axis demand for oil and the concern of the Allies that Germany would look to the oil-rich Middle East for a solution, caused the invasion of Iraq by the United Kingdom and the invasion of Iran by the UK and the Soviet Union. Pro-Axis governments in both Iraq and Iran were removed and replaced with Allied-dominated governments.

  • Kingdom of Iraq Kingdom of Iraq (1941–1947) – Iraq was important to the United Kingdom because of its position on the route to India. Iraq also could provide strategic oil reserves. But due to the UK's weakness early in the war, Iraq backed away from the pre-war Anglo-Iraqi Alliance. On 1 April 1941, the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq was overthrown by a pro-German coup d'état under Rashid Ali. The Rashid Ali regime began negotiations with the Axis powers and military aid was quickly sent to Mosul via Vichy French-controlled Syria. The Germans provided a squadron of twin-engine fighters and a squadron of medium bombers. The Italians provided a squadron of biplane fighters. In mid-April 1941, a brigade of the 10th Indian Infantry Division landed at Basra (Operation Sabine). On 30 April, British forces at RAF Habbaniya were besieged by a numerically inferior Iraqi force. On 2 May, the British launched pre-emptive airstrikes against the Iraqis and the Anglo-Iraqi War began. By the end of May, the siege of RAF Habbaniya was lifted, Fallujah was taken, Baghdad was surrounded by British forces, and the pro-German government of Rashid Ali collapsed. Rashid Ali and his supporters fled the country. The Hashemite monarchy under King Faisal II was restored, and declared war on the Axis powers in January 1942. British and Commonwealth forces remained in Iraq until 26 October 1947.[20]
  • Imperial State of Iran (1941–1943) – German workers in Iran caused both the UK and the Soviet Union to question Iran's neutrality. In addition, Iran's geographical position was important to the Allies. As a result, the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran (Operation Countenance) was launched in August 1941. The following month, Reza Shah Pahlavi was forced to abdicate his throne and went into exile. He was replaced by his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was willing to declare war on the Axis powers. By January 1942, the UK and the Soviet Union agreed to end their occupation of Iran six months after the end of the war.

Soviet examples after 1939

Puppet states later absorbed into the Soviet Union

Map of the Finnish Democratic Republic (1939–40), a short-lived puppet state of the Soviet Union. Green indicates the area that the Soviet Union planned to cede to the Finnish Democratic Republic, and red the areas ceded to the Soviets.

Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe

As Soviet forces prevailed over the German Army on the Eastern Front during World War II, the Soviet Union supported the creation of communist governments throughout Eastern Europe. Specifically, the People's Republics in Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Albania were dominated by the Soviet Union. While all of these People's Republics did not "officially" take power until after WWII ended, they all have roots in pro-communist wartime governments.

Soviet puppet states in Central Asia

  • Republic of Mahabad Republic of Mahabad (1946–1947) – Officially known as the Republic of Kurdistan and established in several provinces of northwestern Iran, or what is known as Iranian Kurdistan and was a short-lived republic that sought Kurdish autonomy within the limits of the Iranian state. Iran retook control in December and the leaders of the state were executed in March 1947 in Mahabad.
  • Democratic Republic of Afghanistan Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (1978–1991)

Other states under Soviet influence

Yugoslavia was a communist state closely linked to the Soviet Union, but Yugoslavia retained autonomy within its own borders. After the Tito–Stalin split in 1948, the relationship between the two countries deteriorated significantly. Yugoslavia was expelled from the international organisations of the Eastern Bloc. After Stalin's death and a period of de-Stalinization by Nikita Khrushchev, peace was restored, but the relationship between the two countries was never completely mended. Yugoslavia continued to pursue independent policies and became the founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement.[citation needed]

The Soviet Union continued to exert some influence over the People's Republic of China before the Sino-Soviet split in 1961. Some other countries which once were Soviet puppet governments included Mongolia, North Korea, North Vietnam, the reunified Vietnam and Cuba, all of which had substantial dependence on the Soviet economy, military, science, and technology. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, most of its former satellites moved towards democratisation. Only China, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam remain one-party communist states.

In 1992, all references to Marxism–Leninism in the constitution of North Korea were dropped by the Supreme People's Assembly and replaced with Juche.[27] In 2009, the constitution was quietly amended to not only remove all Marxist–Leninist references from the first draft, but also drop all references to communism.[28]

Examples before and during decolonisation

In some cases, the process of decolonisation has been managed by the decolonising power to create a neo-colony, that is a nominally independent state whose economy and politics permits continued foreign domination. Neo-colonies are not normally considered puppet states.[citation needed]

Dutch East Indies

The Netherlands formed several puppet states in the former Dutch East Indies as part of its effort to quell the Indonesian National Revolution.[citation needed]

Congo crisis

Following the Belgian Congo's independence as Congo-Leopoldville in 1960, Belgian interests supported the short-lived breakaway State of Katanga (1960–1963).[29]

East Timor

Indonesia established a Provisional Government of East Timor following its invasion of East Timor in December 1975.[30][31][32]

South Africa's Bantustans

Map of Bantustans in South West Africa (present-day Namibia) as of 1978

During the 1970s and 1980s, four ethnic Bantustans - some of which were extremely fragmented - called "homelands" by the government of the time, were carved out of South Africa and given nominal sovereignty. Mostly Xhosa people resided in the Ciskei and Transkei, Tswana people in Bophuthatswana, and Venda people in the Venda.[33][unreliable source?]

The principal purpose of these states was to remove South African citizenship from the Xhosa, Tswana, and Venda peoples, and so provide grounds for denying them their democratic rights. All four Bantustans were reincorporated into a democratic South Africa on 27 April 1994, under a new constitution.[citation needed]

The South African authorities established ten Bantustans in South West Africa (present-day Namibia), then illegally occupied by South Africa, in the late 1960s and early 1970s in accordance with the Odendaal Commission. Three of them were granted self-rule. These Bantustans were replaced with separate ethnicity-based governments in 1980.[citation needed]

Post-Cold War examples

Republic of Kuwait

The Republic of Kuwait was a short-lived pro-Iraqi state in the Persian Gulf that only existed three weeks before it was annexed by Iraq in 1990.

Republic of Serbian Krajina

The Republic of Serbian Krajina was a self-proclaimed territory ethnic cleansed[clarification needed] by Serbian forces during the Croatian War (1991–95). It was completely dependent on the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milošević,[34] and was not recognised internationally.

Recent and current examples

United States

  •  Republic of Iraq (Interim Government and Coalition Provisional Authority) – Critics of the Iraqi Interim Government argued that it existed only at the pleasure of the United States and other coalition countries and considered it a U.S. puppet government.[35] This criticism was also extended to politicians active within the Interim Government, with the media suggesting that Ayad Allawi, was Washington's puppet.[36][37] The CPA's economy was dominated by American influence. The CPA began to dismantle Iraq's centrally planned economy. Paul Bremer, chief executive of the CPA, planned to restructure Iraq's state owned economy with free market thinking. Bremer dropped the corporate tax rate from around 45% to a flat tax rate of 15% and allowed foreign corporations to repatriate all profits earned in Iraq. Opposition from senior Iraqi officials, together with the poor security situation, meant that Bremer's privatisation plan was not implemented during his tenure,[38] though his orders remained in place. CPA Order 39 laid out the framework for full privatisation in Iraq and permitted 100% foreign ownership of Iraqi assets and strengthened the positions of foreign businesses and investors. Critics like Naomi Klein argued that CPA Order 39 was designed to create as favourable an environment for foreign investors as possible, which would allow U.S. corporations to dominate Iraq's economy.[39] Also controversial was CPA Order 17 which granted all foreign contractors operating in Iraq immunity from "Iraqi legal process," effectively granting immunity from any kind of suit, civil or criminal, for actions the contractors engaged in within Iraq.[40] CPA Order 49 also provided significant tax cuts for corporations operating within Iraq by reducing the rate from a maximum of 40% to a maximum of just 15% on income. Furthermore, corporations who collaborated with the CPA were exempted from having to pay any tax.[41]


  •  Artsakh – A former self-declared independent state heavily populated by Armenians, it was internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan. Russian peacekeepers controlled the Lachin corridor that allowed traffic to reach Armenia, on which it was heavily dependent.[44][45]



Abkhazian President Alexander Ankvab with Transnistrian President Yevgeny Shevchuk in 2013. Both Abkhazia and Transnistria have been described as puppet states of Russia.
  •  Abkhazia is considered a puppet state that is dependent on Russia.[48][49] The economy of Abkhazia is heavily integrated with Russia and uses the Russian ruble as its currency. About half of Abkhazia's state budget is financed with aid money from Russia.[50] Most Abkhazians have Russian passports.[51] Russia maintains a 3,500-strong force in Abkhazia with its headquarters in Gudauta, a former Soviet military base on the Black Sea coast[52] and the borders of Abkhazia are protected by Russian paratroopers.[53]
  •  South Ossetia has declared independence but its ability to maintain independence is solely based on Russian troops deployed on its territory. As South Ossetia is landlocked between Russia and Georgia, from which it seceded, it has relied on Russia for economic and logistical support, as all of its exports and imports and air and road traffic is only with Russia. Former President of South Ossetia Eduard Kokoity claimed he would like South Ossetia eventually to become a part of the Russian Federation through reunification with North Ossetia.[54]
  • The  Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and the  Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) were self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine following the fallout from the Euromaidan protests and widely considered to be Russian puppet states.[55][56] Russia annexed the DPR and LPR on September 30, 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  •  Transnistria, a conservative holdover of pro-Soviet forces from the Transnistria War, is considered a puppet state sponsored by Russia.[57][58][59][60]

Disputed examples

In Yemen

Map of territorial control in Yemen
  Southern Transitional Council supported by the UAE
  Internationally-recognized Government of Yemen based in Saudi Arabia
  Houthi-led Supreme Political Council supported by Iran


Saudi Arabia

United Arab Emirates

Turkish Republic of North Cyprus

  •  Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – According to the European Court of Human Rights, the Republic of Cyprus remains the sole legitimate government in Cyprus, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus should be considered as a puppet state under Turkish control.[66][67] Its isolation, Turkish military presence, and heavy dependence on Turkish support mean that Turkey has a high level of control over the country's decision-making processes. That has led to some experts stating that it runs as an effective puppet state of Turkey.[68][69][70] Other experts, however, have pointed out the independent nature of elections and appointments in Northern Cyprus and disputes between the Turkish Cypriot and Turkish governments and concluded that "puppet state" is not an accurate description for Northern Cyprus.[71][72]


See also


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  2. ^ Compare: Marek, Krystyna (1954). Identity and Continuity of States in Public International Law. Library Droz. p. 178. ISBN 9782600040440. [...] an allegedly independent, but 'actually' dependent, i.e. puppet State [...].
  3. ^ McNeely, Connie L. (1995). Constructing the Nation-state: International Organization and Prescriptive Action. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-313-29398-6. Retrieved 13 September 2017. The term 'puppet state' is used to describe nominal sovereigns under effective foreign control...
  4. ^ Puppet government, Merriam-Webster
  5. ^ Raič, David (2002). Statehood and the Law of Self-Determination. Kluwer Law International. p. 81. ISBN 90-411-1890-X. Retrieved 13 September 2017. In most cases, puppet States are created by the occupant during occupation of a State, for the purpose of circumventing the former's international responsibility regarding the violation of the rights of the occupied State.
  6. ^ Lemkin, Raphaël (2008) [1944]. Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-58477-901-8. Retrieved 30 June 2019. The creation of puppet states or of puppet governments does not give them any special status under international law in the occupied territory. Therefore the puppet governments and puppet states have no greater rights in the occupied territory than the occupant himself. Their actions should be considered as actions of the occupant and hence subject to the limitations of the Hague Regulations.
  7. ^ Shapiro, Stephen (2003). Ultra Hush-hush. Annick Press. p. 38. ISBN 1-55037-778-7. Puppet state: a country whose government is being controlled by the government of another country, much as a puppeteer controls the strings on a marionette
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Further reading