This article raises questions about the relationship between theory and practice, legality and illegality in the late Soviet nationalities policy, and the role played by various branches of power. It focuses on the Veps, an indigenous ethnic minority in the northwest of Russia. In the Brezhnev era, quite a few officials and census takers refused to register the Veps nationality in personal identification documents and during censuses, claiming, incorrectly, that the Veps were not in the official list of nationalities or that they were a people (narodnost'), not a nationality (natsional'nost'), and hence could not be registered as one. The Veps were counted as Russians instead. These bureaucratic practices, widespread in Leningrad and Vologda oblasti, but not in Karelia, contradicted official nationalities policy, passport regulations, and census instructions. It seemed that the Soviet state no longer recognized the Veps as an ethnic community. The article claims that the mass refusal to register the Veps nationality was intentional and directed by the regional authorities. The goal was to accelerate the assimilation of the Veps, a policy that worked well. The official number of Veps decreased extremely rapidly in the 1970 and 1979 censuses, only to recover in 1989, after the manipulations had ended.