Vehicle registration plates are the mandatory number plates used to display the registration mark of a vehicle, and have existed in Russia for many decades. Most motor vehicles which are used on public roads are required by law to display them.
The format of vehicle registration plates in Russia has changed immensely since the collapse of the Soviet Union. License plates in Russia originated 1910s and were not standardized, as there was a small amount of automobiles. In 1932, license plates became standardized for each region and had special numbers representing which region the automobile was from. Soviet plates prior to 1982 were white-on-black. They had combination of four digits, grouped by two and three Cyrillic letters in smaller type. The rear plate was square with letters located below the numbers. From those letters, the first two indicated the region. For example, the combination 75-63 КЛЖ referred to a car from the Kaliningrad Region. After 1982 a new black-on-white format for newly registered cars was adopted. The 1982 format differentiated privately owned from government owned cars and trucks (virtually all vehicles used for business, as all businesses belonged to the government). The government owned vehicles retained the NNNN LLL scheme (the digits were no longer grouped by two and all characters were the same size) and the rear plate was square on trucks and buses/coaches but oblong on passenger cars, while private vehicles used L NNNN LL (with a smaller-sized first letter - for example, c 5969 ME on a van from the Moscow Region) and invariably oblong format. The last two letters indicated regions or large cities. Largest cities usually had several two-letter codes to account for a larger number of cars. For example, the city of Kiev used КИ and ХТ codes while the Kiev Oblast' region (excluding the city itself) used КХ. The use of Cyrillic characters meant that in some cases replacement plates with characters looking like Latin characters had to be temporarily issued to vehicles going abroad.
Current plate format
The current format uses a letter followed by 3 digits and two more letters. To improve legibility of the numbers for Russian cars abroad, only a small subset of Cyrillic characters that look like Latin characters are used (12 letters: А, В, Е, К, М, Н, О, Р, С, Т, У, Х). Finally, the region number (77, 97, 99, 177, 197, 199, and 777 for Moscow, 78, 98, and 178 for Saint Petersburg, etc.) and letters "RUS" are included, as well as the national flag (the flag was not used on some of the earliest plates of this format). There is a different format for trailers (2 letters and 4 digits).
The standard size for the license plate is 520 mm by 110 mm.
Some vehicles, like trolleybuses, are not required to have license plates, because they cannot leave the network they operate on and can be identified by number that is painted and is given by local public transport authority. Trucks and buses generally have their licence numbers repeated in large letters on the rear of the vehicle for easier identification (a practice continued from Soviet days), although they also bear licence plates. Some autonomous regions are not required to have the flag on the licence plates.
Vehicles used by certain organisations or categories of persons carry special plates:
- Police forces have special numbers on blue colored plates and the format is one letter and four digits. The letter signifies the branch of the police force, and its meaning may change from city to city; for example, in Moscow, A ####|99 rus stands for traffic police, У ####|99 rus for patrol cars, O ####|99 rus for police guard service etc.
- Diplomatic cars have white characters on a red background. The first three digits on the plate are a code identifying the embassy to which they belong, assigned in order based on the date at which that country established diplomatic relations with Russia or the Soviet Union. For example, the United Kingdom is 001, the United States is 004, and Paraguay is 157. On cars assigned to rank-and-file diplomats this code is followed by D and three digits (for example, 004 D 108|77 rus), while ambassadors' cars have a slightly different license plate format (004 CD 1|77 rus).
- The Armed Forces have white characters on a black background and the format is NNNN LL for vehicles and LL NNNN for trailers. In this case the two digits on the right are not a regional code but a code for the Armed forces branch or service and go with a certain letter combination. For example, #### CA|14 rus is a vehicle belonging to the Railroad Troops; #### BC|27 rus denotes the Air Defence Force, #### TO|18 rus denotes the Ministry of Emergency Situations etc. Unlike all other categories, number plates of Armed Forces are not light reflective.
- Public transport vehicles (such as buses, licensed taxis and licensed share taxis) have black characters on a yellow background and the format is LL NNN. Since such vehicles are relatively few, the region code does not change often; in Moscow, for example, yellow "public transport" plates are still issued with the code 77 in December 2009. (Note: This type is not to be confused with similar-looking yellow license plates having the format LL NNN L, which were issued to cars registered to foreign companies operating in Russia; the latter type has now been withdrawn.)
Special plates in the above four categories never carry the Russian flag.
There are special series (usually numbers starting with A) reserved for government officials (for example, A 001 AA usually belongs to the governor of the region). The license plates for federal government officials originally had a larger flag instead of the regional code but this type has now been withdrawn as well.
Rich businessmen, prominent politicians and crime lords often use para-legally acquired special licence plates (government or police) to get preferential treatment from the transport police and as a status symbol. Often, this is used in conjunction with a flashing siren. The Society of Blue Buckets is a protest movement that opposes this trend.
As per GOST provision, only 1,726,272 combinations may be issued within one administration unit. In certain regions, the amount of vehicles exceeds that number, and the combination may not be reused after a vehicle was taken off the registration. All this creates an issue of running out of numbers.
A short-term solution was introducing more codes for those regions. Thus, some regions have two codes issued to them, Perm Krai and the city of St. Petersburg have three, Krasnoyarsk Krai has four, Moscow Oblast has five, and the federal city of Moscow has seven codes. But this does not fully solve the problem, as the authorities may eventually run out of regional codes because any code containing three-numeral code with any first numeral except for 1 will not fit without changing the standardized layout of the plate.
Introduction of new style license plate is being considered as a future solution.
Codes of diplomatic representative offices and the international organizations on diplomatic license plates
|Code||Country or Organization|
|039||Cambodia (the former Kampuchea)|
|059||formerly Syria. Now code 133 is used.|
|077||Democratic Republic of Congo (the former Republic Zaire)|
|087||Korean People's Democratic Republic (North Korea)|
|092||formerly Czechoslovakia (nowadays Czech Republic (148) and Slovakia (149))|
|103||Central African Republic (code 106 used earlier)|
|106||formerly Central African Republic. Now code 103 is used.|
|111||Sovereign Military Order of Malta (earlier code 111 belonged to Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon))|
|116||United Arab Emirates|
|119||formerly Republic of South Africa. Now code 137 is used.|
|122||formerly Arab League. Now code 503 is used|
|126||Panama (earlier code 126 belonged to UNESCO; see code 512)|
|128||FYR Macedonia (earlier code 128 belonged to EU)|
|130||formerly international organizations|
|131||Holy See (Vatican)|
|133||Syria (code 059 used earlier)|
|137||Republic of South Africa (code 119 used earlier)|
|139||formerly Georgia. Now code 158 is used.|
|155||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|158||Georgia (code 139 used earlier)|
|499||Eurocommission (code 502 used earlier)|
|500||European bank for Reconstruction and Development|
|501||formerly UN Information Centre|
|502||formerly Eurocommission. Now code 499 is used.|
|503||Arab League (جامعة الدول العربية)|
|504||International Bank for Reconstruction and Development|
|505||International Monetary Fund (IMF)|
|506||International Organization for Migration|
|507||International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies|
|508||International Committee of the Red Cross|
|509||International Finance Corporation (IFC)|
|510||United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)|
|512||United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); code 126 used earlier.|
|514||International Bank for Economic Complementation|
|515||International Investment Bank|
|516||The Intersputnik International Organization of Space Communications|
|517||International Centre of Scientific and Technical Information|
|518||International Scientific and Technical Centre|
|520||International Labour Organization|
|521||The Interelectro International Organization for Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation in Electrical Industry|
|522||Coordination Centre of the Intergovernmental Commission for Cooperation in Computing Machinery|
|523||Executive Committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States|
|524||European Space Agency|
|525||Eurasian Patent Organization|
|526||earlier Taipei-Moscow Coordination Commission for Economic and Cultural Cooperation|
|527||The Headquarters for Coordination of Military Cooperation of the state-participants of the Commonwealth of Independent States|
|529||Eurasian Economic Community (earlier - Integration Committee of the Eurasian Economic Community)|
|530||International Research Institute of Management Problems|
|531||Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTA)|
|532||Intergovernmental Statistical Committee of the CIS|
|533||Secretary of Council of Interparliamentary Assembly of state-participants of the Commonwealth of Independent States|
|534||Eurasian Development Bank (EDB)|
|535||The Intergovernmental Foundation for Educational Cooperation of the CIS|
|900||Honorary consuls and offices headed by them.|
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