Capital punishment was a legal penalty in the Soviet Union for most of the country's existence. The legal justification of capital punishment was found in Article 22 of the Fundamental Principles of Criminal Legislation, which stated that the death penalty was permitted "as an exceptional measure of punishment, until its complete abolition".[1]

According to Western estimates, in the early 1980s Soviet courts passed around 2,000 death sentences every year, of which two-thirds were commuted to prison terms.[2] The death penalty was not applied to minors or pregnant women.[3]


During the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies in November 1917, the government of Soviet Russia decreed the abolition of death penalty. Later in February 1918, death penalty was reinstated and especially during the Red Terror.

The first person to be sentenced to death by a Soviet court was Alexey Schastny, Admiral of the Baltic Fleet, on 21 June 1918.[2] Conditional death sentences also occurred in the early 1920s.[3] Decrees issued in 1922, 1923 and 1933 provided police with the right to carry out summary executions, but they were repealed in 1959.[3] Capital punishment was abolished on 26 May 1947, but was reinstated in 1950.[4] Capital punishment was extended to cases of aggravated murder in 1954.[3]

Capital crimes

In addition to crimes such as high treason, espionage, terrorism and murder, capital punishment was imposed for economic crimes, such as "the pilfering of state or public property in especially large amounts".[5] The hijacking of a plane became a capital crime in 1973.[6]

Economic crimes

Capital punishment for crimes against state and public property was reintroduced in 1961.[7] During the same year, two foreign currency traders, Rokotov and Faibishenko, were retroactively sentenced to death and executed.[8] By 1987, over 6,000 people had been executed for committing an economic crime.[7] The death penalty was generally applied if the crime involved sums exceeding about 10,000 rubles, though there was no fixed threshold.[7]

Several officials were executed for economic crimes as part of Yuri Andropov's anti-corruption campaign.[9] Vladimir I. Rytov, a deputy Minister of Fisheries, was executed in 1982 for smuggling millions of dollars worth of caviar to the West.[10] The director of Gastronom 1, one of Moscow's most prominent gourmet food stores, was executed in 1984 for corruption.[11] The chairman of Technopromexport was executed in 1984 for "systematically taking big bribes".[9] Bella Borodkina, head of the restaurants and canteens department in Gelendzhik, was sentenced to death for receiving $758,500 in bribes.[12]

Status of the death penalty today


Key Country Year of last execution Executions 2018 Year abolished Notes
 Russia 1999 (Chechnya)
1996 (rest of Russia)
n/a Firing squad. Russia retains the death penalty, but it is not used due to a 1996 moratorium. There have been 4 brief periods when Russia has completely abolished the death penalty, in the 18th century Russian empress Elizabeth abolished it, but it was restored by the next emperor, Peter III of Russia; then, on 12 March 1917 to 12 July 1917 following the overthrow of the Tsar, 27 October 1917 to 18 February 1918 following the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, and 1947–1950 after the end of the Second World War (Joseph Stalin abolished it in 1947, but he had restored it in 1950, and for this short period, the strictest punishment in USSR was penal servitude in GULAG for 25 years). Currently the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation envisages the death penalty for five crimes: murder with aggravating circumstances, assassination attempt against a state or public figure, attempt on the life of a person administering justice or preliminary investigations, attempt on the life of a law-enforcement officer, and genocide.[13] On 16 April 1997, Russia signed the Sixth Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, but has yet to ratify it. There has been a moratorium on executions since 1996; no executions in the Russian Federation since August 1996 (except one in 1999 in the Chechen Republic, a former limited recognition state). In November 2009, the Constitutional Court extended the moratorium indefinitely pending ratification of the Sixth Protocol. The death penalty is still present in statutes.[citation needed] See Capital punishment in Russia.
 Ukraine 1997[14] 2000[15][16] Abolished February 2000 after the Constitutional Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in December 1999.[15][16] New criminal code passed in April 2000.[15][16][17] The unrecognized Donetsk People's Republic reintroduced the death penalty for treason in 2014.[18]
 Belarus 2018[19] 4 n/a Belarus is the only country in Europe to continue to use capital punishment. Executions are carried out by a single shot to the head. Laws allow capital punishment for acts of aggression; murder of a representative of a foreign state or international organization with the intention to provoke international tension or war; international terrorism; genocide; crimes against the security of humanity; murder with aggravating circumstances; terrorism; terrorist acts; treason that results in loss of life; conspiracy to seize power; sabotage; murder of a police officer; murder of a border patrol; use of weapons of mass destruction; and violations of the laws and customs of war.[20] See Capital punishment in Belarus.
 Uzbekistan 2005[21] 2008 President Islam Karimov signed a decree on 1 August 2005 that replaced the death penalty with life imprisonment on 1 January 2008[22]
 Kazakhstan 2003[23] 2021[24] Moratorium since 17 December 2003. Abolished on 30 July 2009 for other crimes.[25] On 28 March 2011 the Presidential Commission for Human Rights in Astana asked the government to abolish capital punishment.[26] Currently only one person, mass murderer Ruslan Kulikbayev, is on death row in Kazakhstan.[27]
 Georgia 1995[citation needed] 2006 The death penalty was abolished for most offenses in 1997, but the constitution stated that the Supreme Court had the power to impose the death penalty in exceptionally serious cases of "crimes against life". On 27 December 2006, President Mikheil Saakashvili signed into a law a new constitutional amendment totally abolishing the death penalty in all circumstances.

The self-proclaimed state of Abkhazia, which is claimed by Georgia, still retains the death penalty for wartime treason, but it has been under moratorium since 2007.

 Azerbaijan 1993 1998
 Lithuania 1995 1998
 Moldova *None since independence in 1991 2005 Last execution when a part of the USSR was in 1985.[citation needed] On 23 September 2005 the Moldovan Constitutional Court approved constitutional amendments that abolished the death penalty.[28]

The self-proclaimed state of Transnistria, which is claimed by Moldova, still retains the death penalty but has observed a moratorium on executions since 1999.

 Latvia 1996 2012 Death penalty abolished for peacetime offenses 1999. Abolished for all crimes 2012.[29]
 Kyrgyzstan *None since independence in 1991 2007 Kyrgyz authorities had extended a moratorium on executions each year since 1998. Abolished by constitution in 2007[30][31]
 Tajikistan 2004 n/a Firing squad. Death penalty for murder with aggravating circumstances; rape with aggravating circumstances; terrorism; biocide; genocide.[32] Moratorium introduced 30 April 2004 by President Emomali Rahmon, which means instead of capital punishment, the individual shall receive a life in prison. Persons excluded from death row are: the elderly, women, pregnant women, intellectually disabled, the mentally ill, and teenagers who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime.[33]
 Armenia *None since independence in 1991 1998 Abolished in 1998 by Constitution. The last execution when Armenia was a part of the USSR was on 30 August 1991.
 Turkmenistan 1997 1999 Abolished 1999 by Constitution.
 Estonia 1991 1998 The last execution in Estonia has taken place on 11 September 1991 when Rein Oruste was shot with a bullet to the back of the head for the crime of murder.

Satellite states

See also


  1. ^ Ioffe, O. Olimpiad Solomonovich; Janis, Mark Weston (1987). Soviet Law and Economy. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 9024732654.
  2. ^ a b Schmemann, Serge (3 August 1983). "In Soviet, The Death Penalty Persists Without Any Debate". New York Times. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d van den Berg, Ger P. (April 1983). "The Soviet Union and the death penalty". Soviet Studies. 35 (2): 154–174. doi:10.1080/09668138308411469.
  4. ^ Magnusdottir, Rosa (2010). "Review of Hilger, Andreas, "Tod den Spionen!": Todesurteile sowjetischer Gerichte in der SBZ/DDR und in der Sowjetunion bis 1953". H-Net. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  5. ^ Clark, William A. (2016). Crime and Punishment in Soviet Officialdom: Combating Corruption in the Soviet Elite, 1965-90: Combating Corruption in the Soviet Elite, 1965-90. Routledge. ISBN 9781315486635.
  6. ^ "At Least Seven Die In Shootout After Hijacking Of A Soviet Plane". The New York Times. 23 November 1983. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Kline, George L. (May 1987). "Capital Punishment For Crimes Against State And Public Property In The Soviet Union Today" (PDF). National Council For Soviet And East European Research. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  8. ^ Sakharov, Andrei D. (9 February 1978). "The Death Penalty". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  9. ^ a b "2 High Soviet Officials Are Executed For Graft". The New York Times. 14 January 1984. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  10. ^ Chazanov, Mathis (27 April 1982). "Soviets reports execution in caviar scandal". UPI. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  11. ^ Mydans, Seth (5 August 1984). "Soviet Millionaire's Path To The Firing Squad". New York Times. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  12. ^ "Two soldiers and two civilian defense arms experts were..." UPI. 26 April 1984. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  13. ^ "Russian Federation: Death Penalty". Legislationline. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  14. ^ "Annual Report 1999 – Ukraine". Amnesty International. Archived from the original on 9 November 1999.
  15. ^ a b c International Actors, Democratization and the Rule of Law: Anchoring Democracy?, Routledge, 2008, ISBN 0415492955 (page 196 a.f.)
  16. ^ a b c The Death Penalty: Beyond Abolition, Council of Europe, 2004, ISBN 9287153337 (page 74)
  17. ^ Serial killer Onopriyenko dies in Zhytomyr prison, Interfax-Ukraine (28 August 2013)
  18. ^ "Donetsk Separatists Introduce Death Penalty for Treason". 18 August 2014.
  19. ^ "EU, Council Of Europe Condemn New Executions In Belarus". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty.
  20. ^ "Belarus: Death Penalty". Legislationline. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  21. ^ "Uzbekistan: Further information on: Fear of imminent execution/torture and ill-treatment". Amnesty International. 7 April 2005. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  22. ^ "Presidential Decree on the abolition of the death penalty". Legislationline. 19 August 2005. Archived from the original on 28 October 2007.
  23. ^ "The Death Penalty Worldwide: Developments in 2003". Amnesty International. 5 April 2004. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  24. ^ "Kazakhstan scraps death penalty after nearly 20-year moratorium". Retrieved March 20, 2022.
  25. ^ Delaney, Greg (20 July 2009). "Death Penalty is Abolished in Kazakhstan". Kazakhstan Live. Archived from the original on 26 February 2015. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  26. ^ "Kazakhstan: Towards definitive abolition". Hands Off Cain. 28 March 2011. Archived from the original on 19 March 2012. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  27. ^ Toleukhanova, Aigerim (2 November 2016). "Kazakhstan: Almaty Shooter Sentenced to Death" – via EurasiaNet.
  28. ^ [1][dead link]
  29. ^ "Notification of Ratification". Council of Europe. 3 February 2012. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  30. ^ "Kyrgyzstan Abolishes Death Penalty". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 27 June 2007. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  31. ^ "Abolition of the death penalty by Kyrgyzstan". France Diplomatie. 28 June 2007. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007.
  32. ^ "Tajikistan: Death Penalty". Legislationline. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  33. ^ "The Death Penalty in Tajikistan". Retrieved 2017-12-07.