Countries With Very Limited International Recognition

May 2, 2018

Northern Cyprys
The flag of Turkey and the flag of Northern Cyprus. In 1993, Northern Cyprus declared its independence from the Republic of Cyprus, but only Turkey has officially recognized its claim.

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The majority of the countries in the world are both members of the United Nations and are fully recognized by other members of the United Nations. They are, in other words, countries with full international recognition.

There are a few countries, however, that are not universally recognized as legitimate sovereign states. Examining which countries recognize those in the second category is an interesting lesson on international politics and relationships. Here are a few of the high profile political entities with limited international recognition.

South Ossetia

South Ossetia is small territory in the Caucuses region that claimed its independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union broke up. North Ossetia is now a part of Russia, while Georgia officially claims South Ossetia as part of its sovereign territory.

Even though the majority of the countries in the United Nations support Georgia’s claim, Russia and three other UN members have recognized South Ossetia’s independence. With a population of just over 50,000, South Ossetia is one of the smallest states with limited recognition.


Like South Ossetia, Abkhazia was once part of the Soviet Union and is today officially claimed by Georgia as part of its sovereign territory. During the Soviet era it was administered as an autonomous territory within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, but declared its independence from Georgia in 1992.

Abkhazia has since been recognized by neighboring Russia, as well as fellow UN members Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Nauru. At the international level, however, Abkhazia’s 240,000 inhabitants are widely considered to be part of Georgia.

Northern Cyprus

As its name would suggest, Northern Cyprus is a disputed territory on the island of Cyprus. In 1993, the territory declared its independence from the Republic of Cyprus, but only Turkey has officially recognized its claim. Whereas most of the population in Cyprus is Cypriot Greek, those living in Northern Cyprus are ethnic Turks.

The division is the result of a competing interests in the island from Greece and Turkey, which led to an armed conflict in the 1970s. Peace was officially declared in 2004, but the political divisions remain.


Artsakh is a disputed territory with a population of 150,000 located between Iran and the former Soviet Republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia. Prior to the Soviet era, Armenia and Azerbaijan had competing claims over the territory, which led to an armed conflict. The conflict was temporarily settled when it fell under the control of the Soviet Union in 1923 and was administered as an autonomous area within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.

Even though Artsakh declared its independence in 1991 and relies on Armenia politically and economically, it is claimed by and recognized as Azerbaijan. While three other former Soviet regions with limited recognition support its claim to independence, no UN members have officially recognized the Republic of Artsakh.

Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic

The Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, also known as Transnistria, is a territory claimed by and recognized as part of Moldova. The territory declared its independence in 1990, even before the fall of the Soviet Union, and today operates as a de facto independent state with its own currency, government, postal system, and police.

The area, with a population of around five hundred thousand, is long and narrow strip of land between Ukraine and Moldova with a Russian-majority population. The Russian army continues to maintain a military presence in the territory, although it has never officially recognized Transnistria as a sovereign state. They have been recognized by fellow former-Soviet breakaway territories, including South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Artsakh.


Unlike the other disputed territories on this list, Somaliland has not been recognized by any other states or disputed territories. It is officially an autonomous region of Somalia, the eastern African country, with a population of over 3.5 million. The disputed boundaries of Somaliland follow the borders of the former colony known as British Somaliland.

Even though it does not have international recognition, the territory is considered to be de facto independent because it has its own military, foreign relations, and parliamentary system.