I.e. Russian Empire, which was obviously recognized by the UK and the US, ceased to exist de facto due to a revolution. It was de facto succesed by the USSR, but the USSR wasn't a legal succesor. After a while since the creation of the Soviet union, it got recognized by the UK and the US, but did that mean that the UK and the US "unrecognized" Russian Empire?

Russian Empire is not the only example, there were many states that were internationally recognized but ceased to exist either due to a revolution or due to being conquered.

It seems that if such states indeed do de jure "exist", there are some legal consequences, i.e. the current successor of the Russian throne (whoever that might be) has diplomatic immunity while being in the US or in the UK (if I understand correctly how it works).

P.s. this question is mostly about the US and the UK jurisdictions because these are two notable long withstanding jurisdictions that witnessed falls of many states, but answers for other jurisdictions are also welcomed.

Update: the answers so far seem to target cases when recognition and recognition withdrawal were explicit, but I'm talking about cases where no explicit recognition (withdrawal) happened (like in the Russian Empire example above).

  • "the USSR wasn't a legal succesor": in what sense? The USSR recognized the Russian Empire's ratification of the Hague Conventions, at least.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 8:52
  • @phoog Russian Empire -> the USSR transition was illegal within Russian Empire's laws, unlike, for instance, the USSR -> post-Soviet republics
    – kandi
    Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 14:51
  • But that is often the case, and yet international recognition frequently ratifies such changes in government, making them to all intents and purposes legal. It's not like the international community was in a position to reestablish the monarchy.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 17:26
  • @phoog the key difference here is that in some cases explicit recognition is needed and in other cases the transition gets recognized automatically
    – kandi
    Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 19:19

3 Answers 3


For one current example, as of November 2022, the United States recognizes the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. This state de facto ceased to exist in August 2021, when the Taliban seized power and reinstated the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

  • 1
    Are you sure that the US purports to refer to the pre-Taliban state vs simply not bothering to update the long-form name?
    – Greendrake
    Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 2:57
  • 1
    @Greendrake - diplomatic entities are very precise with names of countries they recognize. Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 3:37
  • 3
    @Greendrake: state.gov/u-s-relations-with-afghanistan: "The United States has not yet made a decision as to whether to recognize the Taliban or any other entity as the Government of Afghanistan or as part of such a government." Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 6:12

You will have to look at this case-by-case, not in general.

In 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union occupied Poland. A Polish government-in-exile was extablished first in France and then in the UK. This was recognized by the Western allies. After Germany and the Soviet Union fell out, the Soviets grudingly cooperated with this government in exile, while they organized an alternative, communist-led one which took over when the Red Army conquered Poland. The US and UK withdrew recognition of the London-based government-in-exile in 1945, and so did most but not all other countries.

At the end of most open hostilites of the Chinese civil war, the internationally recognized government held only a (relatively) tiny island. For many years, the Western powers did not recognize the mainland government as the legitimate representative of China. Over several decades, they moved to an ambiguous state where the People's Republic of China is fully recognized, the Republic of China is not fully unrecognized, and the thorny issues are left to a future date.



The Bolsheviks became the de facto rulers of the Tsarist Empire in November 1917 although it took until the end of the Russian Civil War in June 1923 for them to gain complete control of the country. Until 16 November 1933, the United States maintained that the legal government over the area controlled by the Soviet Union was the deposed Tsarist government. In contrast, the United Kingdom recognised the Soviet government as legitimate in February 1924.

The dominant customary international law standard of statehood is the declarative theory of statehood, which was codified by the Montevideo Convention of 1933. The Convention defines the state as a person of international law if it "possess[es] the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) a capacity to enter into relations with the other states" so long as it was not "obtained by force whether this consists in the employment of arms, in threatening diplomatic representations, or in any other effective coercive measure".

Debate exists on the degree to which recognition should be included as a criterion of statehood. The declarative theory of statehood argues that statehood is purely objective and recognition of a state by other states is irrelevant. On the other end of the spectrum, the constitutive theory of statehood defines a state as a person under international law only if it is recognised as sovereign by other states.

Recognition of a country or its legitimate government is a matter for other countries. The existence of a country or its de facto government is a matter of practicality - usually of the boots-on-the-ground type.

At present, there are 206 entities in the world that meet the declarative threshold. 203 of these are recognised by at least one UN-member state (most are recognised by all), 2 are recognised only by non-UN member states (Artsakh & Transnistria), and 1 is recognised by nobody (Somaliland). Also, at this time, no one has recognised the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

  • It is still not clear whether Russian Empire continued to exist de jure within the UK jurisdiction after 1924 and within the US jurisdiction after 1933
    – kandi
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 6:46
  • @kandi indeed, this answer is incorrect. It doesn't offer any evidence that the US maintained the legitimacy of the tsarist government until 1933; it only shows that the US withheld recognition of the Soviet Union until then. But the US recognized the Russian provisional government that was established in March 1917; it was the first country to do so: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Provisional_Government. I doubt the US continued to claim that this was the legitimate government of Russia after it ceased to exist. They certainly weren't advancing claims on behalf of the Romanovs.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 9:03
  • @kandi on the other hand, as "de jure" means "according to the law," it is only meaningful with respect to a specific body of law. Once the UK and US recognized the Soviet Union, how could they also continue to recognize the legitimacy of the Russian Empire? Besides, who would they recognize? There was no imperial government in exile, and there is no universally recognized claimant to the imperial throne.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 9:13
  • @phoog "how could they also continue to recognize the legitimacy of the Russian Empire?" surely this won't make any sense politically, but I see no reasons why this couldn't be the case from the legal POV. I.e. if someone who is the successor to the throne had committed a crime in the US/UK and got arrested after 1934, the court would probably have ordered to release him, provided he had managed to prove that the he is the legitimate successor and thus have diplomatic immunity. At the same time, diplomatic immunity of Soviet representatives would have also worked
    – kandi
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 15:10

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