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Why are there 2 Russian flags?


The Russian flag consists of three equal horizontal bands of white, blue, and red. It has remained unchanged since it was first adopted in 1696. However, there are actually two different versions of the Russian flag that are both considered official – one with the blue band on top, and one with the red band on top. So why are there 2 different Russian flags?

History of the Russian Flag

The modern Russian flag first originated from the flag of the Tsardom of Russia in the 17th century. This early version had a white band on top, followed by blue, then red on the bottom. However, there was no set rule for which color had to be on top or bottom. Flags with both orientations – red on top and blue on top – were used interchangeably for around 200 years.

It wasn’t until the late 19th century rule of Alexander III that a firm order of colors was established in an imperial decree. This set the colors as white on top, blue in the middle, and red on the bottom. This became the official civil flag and state flag of Russia.

When the Soviet Union was formed in the early 20th century, there was debate over whether to keep the traditional tricolor. Some advocated for an entirely new Soviet flag. However, Vladimir Lenin decided to restore the white-blue-red tricolor flag, feeling it carried important meaning for the Russian people. But the Soviet flag put the red band back on top to symbolize the importance of the working class and communism.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the new Russian Federation once again changed the order to the original pre-revolutionary orientation with the blue band on top. But they did not prohibit continued use of the former Soviet red-on-top orientation.

The Two Official Versions Today

So in modern times, there are two legal and official versions of the Russian national flag:

– The civil flag and state flag, with the stripes in white, blue, and red order from top to bottom. This is used at government buildings, embassies, airports, and by private citizens.

– The naval ensign, with the stripes in white, blue, and red order from top to bottom. This is flown by the Russian Navy and at naval installations.

The naval ensign is based on the Soviet-era flag to preserve continuity with their naval traditions. But the national government returned to the original pre-Soviet civil flag.

This accounts for the two different orientations both being considered official Russian flags. Other former Soviet states like Kazakhstan also have a similar dual flag situation – one post-Soviet and one based on Soviet precedent.

The Meaning and Symbolism

The colors of the Russian flag also carry meaning:

– White represents peace and honesty.

– Blue represents faithfulness, fortitude, and courage.

– Red represents love, generosity, and the blood spilled for the nation.

So while there are two official versions, both flags use the same colors and draw upon the same meanings. The order of the stripes does not change what they symbolize or how they are respected as Russia’s national flag.

When to Use Each Version

Because both flags are considered official, there are guidelines for when to use each version:

– The civil flag with blue on top should be used for government buildings, embassies, airports, by private citizens, and in most civilian contexts. This is the more widely used version.

– The naval ensign with red on top is flown on Russian Navy ships, at naval bases and installations, and in relation to naval traditions and protocol.

– The red-on-top flag is also frequently used by communist and leftist political parties and organizations, due to its Soviet connections.

So in general, the blue-on-top orientation is used more widely across Russia. The red-on-top is a specialty flag for naval and communist contexts.

Displaying the Flags Together

When displaying both flags together, the proper protocol is:

– The national civil flag with blue on top should be in the place of honor – on the left from an observer’s perspective, or on the right of a speaker’s perspective.

– The naval ensign with red on top should be displayed to the right or opposite side.

– The national flag should also be displayed in a superior position central or higher to the naval ensign if possible.

Flag Orientation Primary Use
National Flag White, blue, red from top Official civil state flag
Naval Ensign White, blue, red from bottom Russian navy flag

Confusion with Other Slavic Flags

The two Russian flags can sometimes be confused with other Slavic nations’ flags:

– The Russian flag with red on top closely resembles the flag of Serbia, which is nearly identical except with a coat of arms.

– The Russian flag with blue on top looks similar to the flags of Slovakia and Slovenia, both of which also have horizontal triband flags of white, blue, and red.

However, the shades of color differ slightly, and only the Russian flag has both orientations considered official. All other Slavic nations with similar flags keep the order of their stripes consistent.

A Long History and Tradition

In summary, Russia has two official flags representing its national government and military naval traditions. While the blue-on-top orientation sees more regular use, both receive equal respect and protocol as symbols of the Russian state. Their existence points to Russia’s complex history over centuries of monarchy, communism, and periods of change in between. The two Russian flags reflect how history continues to shape national identity today.


Russia’s two variations of the same flag represent the shifts between different governments and ideologies over its history, while maintaining the symbolic meanings of the red, white, and blue tricolor. The national civil flag hearkens back to its imperial roots, while the naval jack preserves Soviet-era influence. Having both as official flags allows this historical blending on Russia’s continued path as a nation. So while the dual flags may seem ambiguous, they allow Russian national identity to embrace its diverse and changing past.