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The term puppet state (also puppet government, marionette government) describes a nominal sovereignty controlled effectively by a foreign power. The term refers to a government controlled by the government of another country like a puppeteer controls the strings of a marionette. A puppet state has also been described as an entity which in fact lacks independence, preserves all the external paraphernalia of independence, but in reality is only an organ of another state who has set it up and whose satellite it is.

The first puppet states

England effectively controlled the de facto crown of France during its control of Parismarker from 1419 to 1436 during the Hundred Years' War. John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford served as the "regent" until his death in September 1435. Nonetheless, France south of the Loire Rivermarker except for Gasconymarker did not recognize this as legal and continued to recognize the Dauphin as king.

During the Seven Years' War, Britain effectively gained its first foothold of substantial area on the Indian subcontinent by supporting Mir Jafar's claim to the title of Nawab of Bengal at the expense of Siraj ud-Daulah. However, the British demands of tribute proved to be excessive and, after Dutch intervention on Mir Jafar's behalf, the East India Company replaced him with Mir Qasim. When Qasim attempted to stand up to British policies, hostilities lead to the Battle of Buxar and British rule expanded to include most of eastern India

The first puppet state in modern European history, in the sense of a state which claimed popular legitimacy but which was significantly dependent on an external power, was the Batavian Republic, established in the Netherlands under French revolutionary protection.

The first puppet states, in the sense of new states whose creation was made possible by the intervention of a foreign power, were the Italian republics created in the late 18th and early 19th centuries with the assistance and encouragement of Napoleonic France. See French client republics.

In 1895, Japan detached Koreamarker from its tributary relationship with China, giving it formal independence which was in reality only a prelude to Japanese annexation.

In 1896 Britainmarker established a puppet state in Zanzibarmarker.

Puppet states in WW I

Puppet states of Imperial Japan

During Japan's imperial periodmarker, and particularly during the Pacific War (parts of which are considered the Pacific theatre of World War II), Japan established a number of states that historians have come to consider puppet régimes. See also Axis powers of World War II

Nominally sovereign states

Other plans

Japanmarker had plans for other puppet states.

The Republic of the Far East was a Japanese puppet régime that never got beyond the planning stages. In addition to the Japanese, the Germans supported the formation of this state. In 1943, the plans for a White Russian state died for good after the Battle for Stalingradmarker.

In 1945, as the Second World War drew to a close, Japan planned to grant puppet independence to the Netherlands East Indiesmarker (Indonesiamarker). These plans ended when the Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945.

Puppet states of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy

Several European governments under the domination of Nazi Germany and Italymarker during World War II have been described as puppet régimes. The formal means of control in occupied Europe varied greatly. These régimes fall into several categories. See also Axis powers of World War II

Existing states in alliance with Germany and Italy

Existing states under German or Italian rule

  • Albaniamarker under Italy (1939–1943) and Albania under Nazi Germany (1943–1944) - The Kingdom of Albania was an Italian protectorate and puppet régime. Italy invaded Albania in 1939 and ended the rule of King Zog I. Zog was exiled and King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy added King of Albania to his title. King Victor Emmanuel and Shefqet Bej Verlaci, Albanian Prime Minister and Head of State, controlled the Italian protectorate. Shefqet Bej Verlaci was replaced as Prime Minister and Head of State by Mustafa Merlika Kruja on 3 December 1941. The Germans occupied Albania when Italy quit the war in 1943 and Ibrahim Bej Biçaku, Mehdi Bej Frashëri, and Rexhep Bej Mitrovica became successive Prime Minister under the Nazis.
  • Francemarker (1940–1944) - The Vichy French régime of Philippe Pétain had limited autonomy from 1940 to 1942. The Vichy government controlled many of France's colonies and enjoyed limited international recognition. For example, the United States of Americamarker granted Vichy France full diplomatic recognition. In 1942, the Germans occupied the portion of France administered by the Vichy government and ended much of the international legitimacy the government had.
  • Monacomarker (1943–1945) In 1943, the Italian army invaded and occupied Monaco, setting up a fascist government administration. Shortly thereafter, following Mussolini's collapse in Italy, the German army occupied Monaco and began the deportation of the Jewish population. Among them was René Blum, founder of the Ballet de l'Opera, who died in a Nazi extermination camp.

New states formed to reflect national aspirations

Puppet regimes under control of Germany and Italy

The Italian Social Republic

  • Italian Social Republic (1943–1945, known also as the Republic of Salò) - General Pietro Badoglio and King Victor Emmanuel III withdrew Italymarker from the Axis Powers and moved the government in southern Italy, already conquered by the Allies. In response, the Germans occupied northern Italy and founded the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI) with Italian dictator 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. When directed to do so, Mussolini provided Germany with Italian citizens to work as forced laborers.

Puppet states of the Soviet Union before 1939

The Soviet Unionmarker had several puppet states in the 1920s.
  • The Far Eastern Republic (1920-1922) Was sometimes described as a puppet state of the Soviet Union. But its identity as a "state" was ambiguous at best and it was more of a "buffer" than a puppet state.
  • Tuvinian People's Republicmarker, also Tannu Tuvamarker (1921-1944) Achieved independence from China by means of local nationalist revolutions only to come under the domination of the Soviet Union in the 1920s. In 1944, Tannu Tuva was made an integral part of the Soviet Union.
  • Mongolian People's Republic (1924-1992) Formed with the assistance of Red Army troops, the Mongolian People's Republic was heavily reliant on Soviet assistance.

Puppet states of the Soviet Union after 1939

As Soviet forces prevailed over the German Army on the Eastern Front during the Second World War, the Soviet Union supported the creation of communist governments in Eastern Europe. Specifically, the People's Republics in Romaniamarker, Bulgariamarker, Hungarymarker, and Polandmarker were dominated by the Soviet Union. While all of these People's Republics did not "officially" take power until after World War II ended, they all have roots in pro-Communist war-time governments. For example, Bulgaria's pro-Communist Fatherland Front seized power in Bulgaria on September 9, 1944. The Fatherland Front government was Soviet dominated and the direct predecessor of the People's Republic of Bulgaria (1946–1990). On the other hand, keeping with the Bulgarian example, it could be argued that the People's Republic of Bulgaria under Prime Minister Georgi Dimitrov (1946–1949) was far from being a Soviet puppet. On yet another hand, an argument for co-belligerence status could also be made for these states.

Iraq and Iran during 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 United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. Pro-Axis governments in both Iraq and Iran were removed and replaced with Allied-dominated governments.

  • 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 over-thrown and there was 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 Basramarker (Operation Sabine). On 30 April, British forces at RAF Habbaniyamarker were besieged by a numerically superior 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, Falluja 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 (King Faisal II and Prime Minister Nuri al-Said) was restored. The UK then forced Iraq to declare war on the Axis in 1942. Commonwealth forces remained in Iraq until 26 October 1947.
  • Imperial State of Persia (1941–1946) - German workers in Iran caused the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union to question Iran's neutrality. In addition, Iran's geographical position was important to the Allies. So, in August 1941, the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran (Operation Countenance) was launched. In September 1941, Reza Shah Pahlavi was forced to abdicate his throne. He was replaced by his son Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi 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.

Satellite states

At the conclusion of the Second World War, there was an understanding between the Allied powers that each state would temporarily occupy the territories they captured during the war before ultimately re-establishing the nations of occupied Europe. For the most part, the territories occupied by the United States, Francemarker and the United Kingdommarker became democracies with market economies aligned with the United States, while the territories occupied by the Soviet Union became communist states aligned with the Soviet Union. This extended so far as to lead to the division of Germany, in which the Soviet occupation sector became East Germanymarker while the United States, United Kingdom, and French occupation sectors became West Germanymarker.

Eastern European members of the Warsaw Pact, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungarymarker, Romania, Bulgaria, and East Germanymarker, were Soviet satellite states influenced but not totally controlled by Moscow. While Soviet leaders claimed that the Warsaw Pact nations were equals entering into a mutual alliance, the reality was different, and decisions were often enforced by Soviet Union with threats of and use of force. For example, when Polish communist leaders tried to elect Władysław Gomułka as First Secretary they were issued an ultimatum by the Soviet military—which occupied Poland—ordering them to withdraw election of Gomulka for the First Secretary or be crushed by Soviet tanks.

Prague Spring in 1968 led to an invasion of Czechoslovakia by the other Warsaw Pact states. As a rationale for this action, the Soviet Union expressed the Brezhnev Doctrine, which stated that it was the duty of all socialist states to protect any socialist state from falling to capitalism. The Western bloc interpreted the Brezhnev Doctrine as an expression of Moscow's authority over other communist states.

American political analysts and the American public believed so strongly that Eastern Europe's communist states were Soviet puppet states that Gerald Ford's insistence during a debate in the 1976 U.S. presidential election campaign that Eastern Europe was not dominated by the Soviet Union was considered a major gaffe, leading his opponent, Jimmy Carter, to reply that he would like to see Ford convince Czech-Americans and Polish-Americans that their countries did not live under Soviet domination, and to Ford's electoral downfall. Similarly, in 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, in a speech at the Berlin Wallmarker, challenged not the East German leader, but rather Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall".

Gorbachev ultimately renounced the Brezhnev Doctrine, jokingly calling his policy the "Sinatra Doctrine" after the song "My Way" because of its explicit allowance of Eastern European countries to decide their own internal affairs. Within only a couple years of Gorbachev's abandonment of the Brezhnev Doctrine, Eastern Europe's communist regimes all fell and their states sought better relations and integration with the West, abandoning ties to Soviet Union.

Korea and Vietnam

During the 1950–1953 Korean War, South Koreamarker was accused of being an American puppet state by North Koreamarker and its allies. At the same time, the United States alleged that North Korea was a Soviet puppet state.

In 1955, the Vietnamese Catholic leader Ngo Dinh Diem, encouraged by the United States, declared the creation of the South Vietnam (RVN) in the southern part of Vietnam. The northern part of the country was then largely under control of the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV).

The Paris Peace Accords were preceded by months of intensive negotiations over whether the National Front for the Liberation of Vietnam (Viet Cong) should be treated as an independent party or as a puppet of North Vietnam.

Latin America

The United States cited the threat of communism in exerting significant influence—which some historians describe as the creation of puppet states—in a number of Latin American countries, ranging from the Anastasio Somoza regime in Nicaragua, to the Trujillo dynasty in the Dominican Republicmarker.


In some cases, the process of decolonization has been managed by the decolonizing 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.

South Africa's 'Bantustans'

During the 1970s and 1980s, four ethnic bantustans, some of which were extremely fragmented, were carved out of South Africa and given nominal sovereignty. Two (Ciskei and Transkei) were for the Xhosa people; and one each for the Tswana people (Bophuthatswana) and for the Venda people (Venda Republic).

The principal purpose of these states was to remove the Xhosa, Tswana and Venda peoples from South African citizenship (and so to provide grounds for denying them democratic rights). All four were reincorporated into South Africa in 1994.

After the Cold War

The War on Terrorism

In more recent times, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and 2003 invasion of Iraq have led to largely U.S.-led regime change efforts in these two nations, fostering accusations among critics of the administration that the governments established under U.S. occupation are American puppet states. Nationalist and Muslim insurgent in Iraqmarker and Afghanistanmarker condemn the respective governments as collaborationist puppet regimes. In a January 2008 interview, Afghan President Hamid Karzai assented to being labelled America's "puppet" in return for U.S. assistance, stating, "if I am called a puppet because we are grateful to America, then let that be my nickname."

South Ossetia

South Ossetiamarker has declared independence but its ability to maintain independence is solely based on Russian troops deployed on Georgian territory. The President of South Ossetia Eduard Kokoity claimed he would like South Ossetia eventually to become a part of the Russian Federation through reunification with his fellow Ossetian countrymen in North Ossetiamarker.. It is unclear whether this is true puppetry on the part of South Ossetia, or a recognition by Kokoity and the Russians that their desires are compatible and that each party can help the other achieve its goals.


Abkhaziamarker has declared independence but its ability to maintain independence is solely based on Russian troops deployed on Georgian territory and Russian aid. Abkhazia however, unlike South Ossetia, is not landlocked as it borders the Black Sea and does not wish to become a part of the Russian Federation through reunification.

See also


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