Stalin overestimated the efficacy of the Finnish Communist Party and underestimated the canniness of Finnish politicians. Starting in leverage high grade military equipment from the Germans which allowed the Finnish forces to stage a fighting retreat from Karelia in 1944. Thus in mid-1944, the Finns and the Soviets were fighting in the same ground as the Winter War. Both the Kremlin and the Red Army’s leadership were much more interested in maintaining the drive into Eastern Europe than refighting what had been a dark chapter in Soviet military history.
Urho Kekkonen, a Finnish parliamentarian and later Prime Minister, said in a 1944 radio broadcast “the Soviet Union must stand to gain a bigger advantage from an independent Finland clinging to life than from a broken Finland doomed to a dependent existence.” The cornerstone of Soviet-Finnish relations was the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance signed with the USSR in April 1948. The Treaty guaranteed that Finland would aid the Soviets against “Germany or its allies” and fostered a series of networks and political connections between the Soviets and the Finns. The Soviets initially expected the Finnish Communist Party (SKP) to make electoral gains, but the existing Finnish political establishment adroitly managed to sideline them. The Treaty and the Finnish compliance with it did not give the SKP any major issues with which to attack the existing governments. Successive Soviet governments wanted the Treaty to be expanded and pull the Finns closer into the orbit of the Soviet sphere, but the Finns were able to strategically drag their feet. For example, the language “Germany or its allies” meant that Finns were able to justify not wanting to take defense steps against NATO Norway and Denmark. At the same time, the Finns also mastered the art of not appearing to be undermining the larger issue of Soviet security; they would give way over key debates like radar stations its early warning network.
The success of the Finns looks quite intelligent and unexpected from the vantage point of 2014, it’s important to keep in mind that during the Cold War the West was quite apprehensive the Finnish policies of accommodation. “Finlandization” became a pejorative term within Western Cold War discourse and a shorthand for making concessions to gain at best temporary freedoms from the USSR.
Jakobson, Max. Finnish Neutrality; A Study of Finnish Foreign Policy Since the Second World War. New York: Praeger, 1969.
Jussila, Osmo, Seppo Hentilä, and Jukka Nevakivi. From Grand Duchy to a Modern State: a Political History of Finland since 1809. London: Hurst & Company, 1999.
Luostarinen, Heikki. “Finnish Russophobia: The story of an enemy image.” Journal of Peace Research 26, no. 2 (1989): 123-137.
Rentola, Kimmo. “From half-adversary to half-ally: Finland in Soviet policy, 1953-58.” Cold War History 1, no. 1 (2000): 75-102.
This was during the Finnish civil war between the conservative “whites” and the socialist “reds.” The picture was probably taken after the whites, with the support of German troops, won the battle for Helsinki. (This picture might be from the parade that was held in celebration of the victory.)
During the first years of the 20th century, Russia had been working on the abolition of Finland’s autonomous status. As a result, there was strong discontent in Finnish society. In 1905 Russia lost the Russo-Japanese War. This stunning and unexpected defeat led to the Russian Revolution of 1905. In Finland the unrest was expressed in the Finnish general strike of 1905. During the strike Finnish police forces were effectively disbanded, as they had been closely associated with the occupying Russian authorities. Municipal, mostly unarmed, security guards were spontaneously organised by individuals associated with the constitutional and Social Democratic parties. At first all political groups were able to work together, but towards 1906 the civil guards of large towns had become divided along party lines. The first violent clash between Red and White Guards occurred in July 1906 in Helsinki, but after the return of Finnish autonomy the moderate Social Democrats and the whole constitutional party withdrew from military activities. However, the radicalized Red Guard of Helsinki did not disband, despite an order from the Social Democratic leadership to do so, and took part in the mutiny at Viapori fortress alongside revolutionary, anti-imperial Russian soldiers. In the ensuing fighting Czarist Russian troops destroyed the Red Guard as an organisation.
The collapse of discipline in the Czarist Russian armed forces in 1917 created a power vacuum. Here, anarchist Russian sailors are photographed in Helsinki during the summer of 1917.
The February Revolution in Russia in 1917 caused the collapse of Russian political and military power in Finland. Again, the Russian-associated Finnish police were effectively disbanded, while the largely undisciplined Russian troops engaged in violence, mostly towards their own officers. During the summer of 1917 paramilitary groups were formed for protection and to preserve order. Although the founding of these “fire brigades” was often done in a non-partisan manner, they often split into two opposing factions during the autumn of 1917. The initially unarmed Red and White Guards strove to obtain weapons. The Red Guards usually were able to get arms from revolutionary Russian military units, while the White Guards got theirs from Swedish and German supporters abroad. At the same time, political tensions between socialists and non-socialists escalated. Inside the Social Democratic party, the official leadership was derailed while the executive committee of the Red Guards and the labour unions gained more power.
The Senate, led by Pehr Evind Svinhufvud, proposed a Declaration of Independence, which the Parliament adopted on December 6, 1917. Declaring independence was one thing, but exercising control over the territory was another. Svinhufvud’s “White Senate” had nothing but the White Guards to rely on as yet. There were 42,500 Russian soldiers in Finland. Although the Imperial Russian Army was slowly disintegrating and had already started to withdraw its units from Finland, the demoralized, poorly trained and undisciplined Russian military forces in the country posed a substantial challenge to Finnish authority.
In parliament the question on forming a new security force was hotly debated. On January 13, 1918, the non-socialist majority gave authorization to the Senate (Finnish cabinet) to organize a police force of the White Guard. Soon the Senate asked General Mannerheim to form a new Finnish army on the basis on the White Guard militia. In southern Karelia the White and Red Guards clashed in small-scale engagements as both sides attempted to secure the railway to St. Petersburg. During the night of January 27–28, 1918, the White Guards started to disarm and arrest the Russian garrisons in Ostrobothnia. During the night the executive committee of the Red Guards declared the Finnish Socialist Workers’ Republic in Helsinki. The Civil War of Finland had begun.
Neither the Red nor the White Guard were trained for combat. Structures had to be built in extreme haste by both parties. The White Army had a better foundation for this, as it received the Finnish Jaeger troops, some 2,000 men trained by Germany since 1915. These soldiers were able to act as instructors and officers, forming the officer and NCO corps of the new conscript army. In addition, the White side had 1,200 volunteers from Sweden, many of whom were officers), and a significant number of Finnish officers who had previously served in the imperial Russian Army but returned home after the revolution.
Although in the beginning of the war the White Guard formed the bulk of the White army, the conscript units very soon matched the White Guard units in number. These troops, which were much better disciplined and trained than the volunteer Guards, proved to be crucial for the outcome of the war. The Red side never accomplished conscription, which was one of the reasons for its demise.
After four months of bitter fighting, the Red Guards were defeated and the White Guards were recognized as one of the key agents in the victory, downplaying for political reasons the role of the German intervention units and the German-trained 2,000 Jaegers. The Civil War was portrayed as a liberation from Russian control after a 20-year-long Russification programme, with the Whites stressing the links of the Reds to the Russian Bolshevik regime. However the White victory was achieved with assistance from the Germans. German influence after the war was so strong that the independence of Finland was greatly in question until the end of World War I.
There were reparations in the aftermath of the Civil War. As the Reds had murdered some 1,100 people in their zone of control (the so-called Red terror), the Whites retaliated ruthlessly, executing some 7,370 people after the recapture of the Red areas (the so-called White terror).Approximately 4,000 Whites and 4,500 Reds were killed in action. The famine of 1918 claimed another 20,000 lives. Of those who perished, some 13,000 died in the prison camps. Because of their ruthlessness and eagerness to retaliate, the White Guards earned the title Lahtarikaarti (Butcher Guard) among the Reds.
A Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, Rukajärvi, in East Karelia, in November 1942.
A Soviet spy laughs at his executioner in a picture taken in Rukajärvi, in East Karelia, in November 1942. It has been thought within the Finnish Defence Forces that the decision to withhold pictures of the fate of Russian POWs and spies may also have been prompted by concerns that pro-Soviet elements in Finnish society could have used the images for propaganda purposes. This picture was declassified by the Ministry of Defense of Finland in the 2006, with the description: Unknown Soviet intelligence officer before being shot. Finland, in 1942.
It’s a pretty amazing picture. To capture the last few moments of life. He knows he will die in a few seconds, in a forest in the snow. And there he will bleed out and be forgotten. His life, his experience, has come to an end. What else could he do but smile? That smile was is final Defiance. Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.
Of note, Finland was allied with Germany and at war with USSR. This is the Continuation War, not the previous Winter War. By 1942 Finland was involved in the blockade of Leningrad (that starved to death 1 million civilians). Finland was not that involved, to be exact they refused to assist with the siege directly even though their frontlines we’re just about 30km away.
WWII for Finland was the Winter War (Soviets invade Finland, Finland fights until it almost literally has no more ammunition left in Finland so they have to negotiate a peace where they lose territory which the Soviets were glad to accept since they had lost so many people – meanwhile, the other democracies of the world initially help Finland since the Soviet Union is one of the “bad guys” – allied with Nazi German – but then get distracted by Nazi shenanigans), the Continuation War (Finland allies with Nazi Germany to take back territory lost in the Winter War – meanwhile, other democracies are placed in an awkward situation since now, the Soviet Union is one of the “good guys” since the Nazis backstabbed the Soviet Union) and the Lapland War (Finland negotiates separate peace with allies on fairly favorable terms – since the western allies realize that the Soviet Union is actually not a “good guy” but an “enemy of my enemy” – and kicks Nazis out of Finland).
This picture was declassified in 2006.