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The Russian flag is a white, blue and red tricolour. The current version was formally adopted as the flag of Russia on 11 December 1993, but variants of the tricolor had been in use as the Russian state flag since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The tricolor was previously used as the flag of the Russian Empire. It was adopted by Peter the Great in 1696 and remained in use until the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Soviet flags in use from 1917 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 comprised a hammer and sickle design over a red background. During the Soviet era the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, as one of the fifteen Soviet republics, used the red Soviet flag with a blue bar along its near side.
Use of the Russian flag was, until recently, restricted to official occasions but, since 2014, Russians have been able to use the flag when they wish to demonstrate their patriotism.
What does the Russian flag look like?
Russia’s flag is a tricolor flag in a 2:3 ratio. It is divided into three horizontal bars of equal height. The top bar is white, the middle bar is blue, and the bottom bar is red.
The following colours are used in the Russian flag:
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When was the Russian flag used?
The Russian tricolor flag was first introduced in 1696, during the reign of Peter the Great. It was first used as the naval ensign of the Russian fleet, before being adopted as the merchant flag in 1705.
Many believe that the Dutch flag of the time was used as the template for the Russian tricolor. This is partly because Peter the Great had strong links to the Netherlands – he had spent some time in the shipyards there during his tour of Europe as a young man (commonly known as Peter the Great’s grand embassy). It is also because David Butler, the captain of Russia’s first naval ship the Oryol, was Dutch. However, there is little hard evidence to support either of these theories.
The tricolor was used as Russia’s de facto flag for many years and was incredibly popular among the Russian people – so much so that attempts by Russian Tsars to impose a different flag failed.
It was formally adopted as the National flag when Tsar Nicholas II was coronated in 1896.
After the first (February) Russian revolution, the flag continued in use under the Provisional Government. It was also used by many of the anti-communist forces during the Russian Civil War (1917-21).
The Russian flag was replaced by the Soviet government with a flag that, over time, developed into the widely recognised Soviet flag – a red background with a hammer and sickle design.
Throughout the Soviet era, a red flag with a soviet star and a hammer and sickle emblem was used. The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic used the standard Soviet flag with a blue bar along the left hand side. You can see a picture below:
The tricolor was adopted once again by the Russian SFSR as during opposition to the failed August 1991 coup. It became symbolic of the hopes and dreams of many Russians in the Soviet Union’s twilight days.
The current Russian flag was introduced by Presidential executive order (#2126) on 11 December 1993. It set out the colours we see in the Russian flag today and altered its dimensions to the current 2:3 ratio.
What does the Russian flag mean?
The colours on the Russian flag have no official meaning or symbolism.
There are, however, a number of different popular explanations of what the colours on the Russian flag represent. One common interpretation is that they mean:
“White – peace and honesty
Red – hardiness, bravery, strength and valour
Blue – vigilance, truth and loyalty, perseverance and justice”
A second interpretation is that the white represents God, the blue represents the Russian emperor, and the red represents the Russian people.
A third is that the colours are based on the flag of the Grand Duchy of Moscow, and that they represent St George on a white horse, in a blue cape, defeating a red dragon.
Russia is divided into eight federal districts, three of which cover ‘Siberia’ – the Urals Federal District, the Siberian Federal District, and the Urals Federal District. Because these federal districts are not constituent units of Russia, none of them have a flag of their own.
However, there are some historical and unofficial flags that could be said to be Siberian flags. All of them have the same basic design of one white block and one green block – a format devised during the Russian Revolution.
“The National Siberian Banner shall be a combination of 2 colours: white and green. White colour means Siberian snow, whilst green colour – Siberian taiga. The banner shall be rectangular, split into 2 parts diagonally from the left top to right bottom. thus, the upper triangle shall be of green colour, and the lower one – of white colour.”
Although a number of autonomous government were formed (and dissolved) in Siberia during the Russian Civil War, it is not certain that this flag was ever used in an official capacity.
Instead, the earliest historical example of a Siberia flag is the Provisional Government of Siberia flag. It is reported to have been a white rectangular block immediately over a green rectangular block. The Provisional Government of Siberia was founded in late January 1918, during the Russian Civil War, and was opposed to the Soviet government, which at the time had a very shaky hold on power in Russia, and later became the Provisional Siberian Government.
Russian flag day – 22 August
Russian flag day is celebrated on 22 August every year. It is not an official public holiday, so people are not entitled to take time off work.
The holiday was introduced by President Boris Yeltsin in 1994 to celebrate the defeat of a coup attempt by Soviet hardliners.
The Russian naval ensign is the current flag of the Russian navy. It is a blue St Andrews cross on a white background in a 2:3 ratio.
The naval ensign was adopted by Peter the Great in 1712. It was used until the Soviet revolution in 1917, and was adopted again by the Russian Navy in 1992.
Russia flag map
Here is a flag map of Russia which you can use and download. It includes the territory of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.
To download the picture, right click and select ‘save’.
Two excellent resources for further reading on Russian flags are:
- the Russian flag page on the Flags of the World website and
- the Russian site Vexilographia, which has pages English and Russian.