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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:


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

Main article: List of World War I puppet states

Established by the German Empire

By others

World War II

Imperial Japan

Further information: Axis powers of World War II, Collaboration with Imperial Japan, and List of WWII puppet states

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
In China

Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy

Further information: Axis powers of World War II and Collaboration with 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

British examples during and after World War II

Further information: Allies of World War II and List of World War II puppet states

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.

Soviet examples after 1939

Main article: Soviet satellite states

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

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

See also: Françafrique

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

See also: King Leopold II, Mining industry of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Blood diamond

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




Abkhazian President Alexander Ankvab with Transnistrian President Yevgeny Shevchuk in 2013. Both Abkhazia and Transnistria have been described as puppet states of Russia.

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


See also


  1. ^ a b Morgan Shuster. "The Strangling of Persia: A Story of European Diplomacy and Oriental Intrigue". p. 221 – via No Ruz in: Near East Journal, 21 March 1912.
  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
  8. ^ Harper, Douglas. "puppet (n.)". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  9. ^ Stanley, John (1989). "The Adaptation of the Napoleonic Political Structure in the Duchy of Warsaw (1807–1813)". Canadian Slavonic Papers / Revue Canadienne des Slavistes. 31 (2): 128–145. doi:10.1080/00085006.1989.11091911. JSTOR 40869047.
  10. ^ Şirin, İbrahim (February 2014). "İki Hükümet Bir Teşkilat: Garbî Trakya Hükümet-i Muvakkatesi'nden Cenub-î Garbî Kafkas Hükümeti Muvakkate- î Milliyesi'ne" [Two Governments One Organisation: From the Provisional Government of Western Thrace to the Provisional Government of South-Western Caucasia] (PDF). History Studies (in Turkish). 6 (2). 125–142. doi:10.9737/historys1130. ISSN 1309-4688. See translated abstract on page 125.
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Further reading