After making the Soviet border regions more secure in Western Byelorussia and Western Ukraine, and acquiring defensive bases in the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Soviet Marxist-Leninists turned their attention to the vulnerability of their border with Finland.

After being a Swedish province for 600 years, in 1808 Finland was ceded to the Russian Tsar as a Grand Duchy. After the Russian Revolution of November 1917, Finland declared its independence on 6 December 1917, and this was recognised by Soviet Russia on 2 Januarv 1918.

After the Finnish revolution of 1918 had been crushed by a 'white' army under Baron Carl Mannerheim; with the help of German forces, the new right-wing Finnish government actively supported the armies of intervention which were attacking the young Soviet republic:

The Finnish government’s hostility to the Soviet Union had not basically changed since Mannerheim told the London ‘Times' in 1919 that Finland's historic mission was to drive Bolshevism from Leningrad: In October 1939, Ralph Hewins*, the special correspondent of the 'Daily Mail' in Helsinki, was still describing Mannerheim as: In 1918 the 'Times' had drawn attention to the threat to Soviet Russia posed by the strategic position of Finland: On 14 October 1920 the Soviet government signed with Finland the Treaty of Tartu, having, because of its weakness, to accept terms which made its security even worse than before: At the 6th Congress of the Communist International in 1928, the Finnish delegate Yrjo Sirola* emphasises the danger of Finland being used as a base by one or other great power for an attack on the Soviet Union: A similar threatening picture was drawn by the Soviet Marxist-Leninist Andrey Zhdanov* at the 8th Congress of Soviets on 29 November 1936: Fred Singleton*, in his 'A Short History of Finland', points out that: In 1939, having become a Great Power and with the threat of German intervention temporarily removed by the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, the Soviet government sought to rectify the dangerous situation to its security resulting from the Treaty of Tartu.

The Soviet-Finnish Negotiations (1939)

On 8 October 1939 it was announced in Helsinki that the Finnish government had accepted an invitation from the Soviet government to send a special representative to Moscow to discuss:

The government appointed Juho Paasikivi*, then Finnish Minister to Sweden, as its special representative.
On 9 October 1939, before Poasihivi departed for Moscow, President Kyosti Kallio handed to him instructions, drafted by Foreign Minister Eljas Erkko*, for the conduct of the negotiations: Leonard Lundin comments: On 11 October, just before Paasikivi's arrival in Moscow, US President Franklyn Roosevelt* sent a personal letter to the Soviet President, Mikhail Kalinin, expressing: Kalinin replied on 12 October: Round 1:
Paasikivi arrived in Moscow on 12 October 1939, when negotiations began in the presence of Stalin and Molotov.

Stalin attended all three rounds of the negotiations:

The basic Soviet aims in the negotiations were expressed in a memorandum handed by Stalin and Molotov to Paasikivi on 14 October: In order to satisfy themselves that Finland would maintain 'firm, friendly relations' with the Soviet Union, the Soviet representatives proposed the conclusion of a Soviet-Finnish mutual assistance treaty. In accordance with their instructions, the Finnish delegation at once rejected this proposal: The Soviet representatives accordingly dropped this proposal.

To achieve points (1) ands (2), the Soviet government proposed that Finland should lease to the Soviet Union the port of Hanko and the territory adjoining them, and allow it have a Soviet garrison there for the protection of the naval base.

The total area of the territory requested for these purposes and to achieve point 3 was 2,761 square kilometres, in exchange for which the Soviet Union would cede to Finland territory with an area of 5,529 square kilometres i.e., more than double the area.

Stalin explained to Paasikivi that the motive behind the Soviet proposals was purely defensive:

The essence of the Soviet demands was aptly summarised by Lundin: On 14 October Paasikivi offered: But: Round 2:
On 19 October, Paasikivi returned to Moscow, this time in company with Vaino Tanner, shortly to become Foreign Minister, and the negotiations were resumed on 23 October.

On 23 October Paasikivi and Tanner handed their reply to Stalin and Molotov:

On 26 October Tanner wrote to Swedish Prime Minister Per Hansson*, asking: To which Hannon replied on 27 October: Paasikivi and Tanner returned to Helsinki on 26 October.

Round 3

On 31 October Molotov made an important speech to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR in which he said:

Paasikivi and Tanner returned to Moscow for the third (and final) round of negotiations, arriving on 2 November.

On 1 November, while they were en route , Finnish Foreign Minister Eljas Erkko said in a speech in Helsinki that:

On 3 November 'Pravda' criticised Erkko 's speech as one which: At the third round of the Soviet-Finnish talks, on 3 November the Finnish delegation handed to Molotov their government's reply: However, Paasikivi was in favour of seeking a compromise with the Soviet government by offering it a base further to the west: After a break over the holiday for the anniversary of the Russian Revolution of 1917, negotiations were resumed on 8 November.
On this day the delegation received further instructions from Helsinki: It was at this point time that Stalin made a considerable concession, suggesting that if the Finns were adamant that Hanko was not negotiable, perhaps some other small island nearby could be leased: On 4 November the delegation telegraphed Stalin's proposal to Helsinki: The Finnish government took this concession as a sign that the Soviet position was weakening: Although even Mannerhein himself was in favour of conceding Jussaro: the Finnish government telegraphed final instructions to its delegation on 8 November: So, on 9 November the Finnish delegates handed Molotov a Note which declared: Accordingly, As the Finnish White Paper expresses it: As Lundin says, The Finnish delegation left Moscow for the last time on 13 November.

Although the negotiations had broken down, Tanner himself testifies that they had been conducted in a friendly manner:

It is clear that the Soviet government 's proposals were neither a threat to Finland's independence nor based on territorial expansion, but were designed solely to increase the Soviet Union's defensive capacity. The Finnish government’s rejection of the Soviet proposals and its categorical rejection of the compromises proposed by Moscow demonstrated that it was being backed by one or more foreign powers to cling to a boundary which represented a serious threat to the security of the Soviet Union.

The Finnish political commentator Martti Turola*,  has admitted:

and the German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentropp* wrote in December 1939 that German intelligence was convinced that the backing of a Great Power, namely Britain, was behind the intransigence of the Finnish government in its negotiations with the Soviet Union: Prelude to War (1939)

According to the Finnish government at the time, and to the complaint which it laid before the League of Nations, on 30 November 1930 the Soviet Union launched a sudden and unprovoked invasion of Finland.

The known facts, however, do not support this story.

On 6 October 1939, the day on which Molotov’s invitation was received in Helsinki,

On 10 October 1939, while Paasikivi was still on his way to Moscow to begin negotiations with the Soviet Government, On 14 October, during the first of the three rounds of Finnish-Soviet negotiations: On 26 November Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov handed to the Finnish Minister in Moscow, Baron Aarno Yrjo-Koskinen*, a strongly worded note, saying: The Soviet government therefore proposed: The Finnish government replied on 27 November, denying that their troops had been responsible for the incident complained of and proposing, firstly, that discussions should take place on the mutual withdrawal of both Finnish and Soviet troops from the frontier and, secondly, that a joint inquiry should be held into the incident: On 28 November, Molotov handed a further Note to the Finnish Minister stating that, in view of the conduct of the Finnish government, the Soviet government considered the non-aggression pact between the two countries signed in 1932 to be null and void: On the following day, 29 November, Molotov handed a further Note to Yrjo-Koskinen complaining that Finnish attacks on Soviet troops were continuing and effectively breaking off diplomatic relations with Finland: The above version of the facts -- that the Finnish armed forces were the instigators of the frontier incidents which had occurred -- was confirmed by the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in February 1945: More than twenty-five years after Stalin's death, most Soviet sources agree that the war was initiated by Finnish forces.

For example, the 'Great Soviet Encyclopaedia', published in the 1980s, asserts:

Marshal Kirill Meretskov* confirms that it was the Finns who began hostilities: and Marshal Nikolay Voronov confirms: Furthermore, when war broke out again between Finland (now a co-belligerent of Nazi Germany) and the Soviet Union in 1941 -- a war known officially and significantly in Finland as the 'Continuation War' -- it was clear to most observers that Finnish charges that the Soviet Union initiated the conflict were false. The 'Continuation War' is discussed in a later section of this chapter.

The Morality of the War (1939-40)

 Marxist-Leninists maintain that some wars are just, while some are unjust:

The question of which side fired the first shot is, to Marxist-Leninists, irrelevant to the determination of the character of a war: The question of whether a war is just or unjust is determined objectively, assert Marxist-Leninists, by the effect of that war on the historical development of society towards socialism. If it helps forward that development, it is a just war; if it holds back that development, it is an unjust war: In particular, a war being waged by a socialist state in which the working people hold political power, against a capitalist state is a just war irrespective of who fired the first shot: Some Soviet writers agree with official Finnish sources that Soviet forces initiated the Soviet-Finnish War. For example, Nikita Khrushchev says in his memoirs: Nevertheless, Khrushchev, at the time of writing, retained a sufficiently superficial Marxism-Leninism, to recognise that this was not relevant to the character of the Soviet-Finnish war and that this was being fought, on the Soviet side, purely for necessary defensive purposes and was a just war: Indeed, many Western international lawyers accept the view that a state may legitimately intervene in another state where such intervention is necessary to its self-preservation.
Thomas Lawrence* writes in his 'The Principles of International Law': and Joseph Starke*, in his 'Introduction to International Law', agrees: Many prominent Westerners who were not international lawyers agreed that the Soviet war with Finland was a just war. For example, the writer George Bernard Shaw* wrote in the 'Daily Mail' in December 1939, while the Soviet-Finnish War was still in progress: Even Winston Churchill, who had savagely condemned Soviet 'aggression’ against Finland at the time, changed his view after 1941: The League of Nations Acts (1939)

On 2 December, one day after the full-scale Soviet-Finnish War began, Eino Holsti*, the Finnish delegate to the League of Nations, handed a letter to Joseph Avenol*, Secretary-General of the League, complaining that:

and requesting a meeting of the Council and Assembly of the League: The League had taken no effective action against countless acts of aggression by Germany, Italy and Japan. But now that the charge was directed against the Socialist Soviet Union, the League sprang speedily into action.

The Secretary-General responded by summoning an immediate meeting of the Assembly and Council (the outbreak of the Second World War on 23 September had produced no meeting).

The initiative was taken by non-belligerent states which supported Finland. The ‘Times' expressed the motive behind this strategy:

A special committee was set up to consider the Soviet-Finnish dispute. Its members were: Britain, Canada, Egypt, India, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Siam, Sweden, Uruguay and Venezuela. The Soviet Union and Finland --parties to the dispute -- did not vote; Peru and Iran were absent, while China, Greece and Yugoslavia abstained from voting. Thus seven states -- one half of the Council -- voted for the expulsion of the Soviet Union.

As Vernon Bartlett* expressed it in the 'News Chronicle':

The 'New York Times' describes the manner in which, in these circumstances, the expulsion of the Soviet Union from the League of Nations was stage managed: On 14 December 1939 the Assembly of the League adopted a resolution to the effect that it: while later the same day the Council of the League adopted a resolution to the effect that it: The Finnish Democratic Republic (1939-40)

On 1 December 1939 a Provisional People's Government of the Finnish Democratic Republic was set up at Terijoki, on Finnish territory occupied by the Red Army, with the Finnish Communist Otto Kuusinen- as its Prime Minister and People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs.

In a proclamation to the Finnish people, the People's Government declared that it regarded itself merely as a provisional government:

and that its primary task was the rout of the Finnish 'White Guards', the conclusion of peace and the establishment of friendly relations with the Soviet Union: Finally, the proclamation summarised the programme of the People's Government, which was broadly progressive but not socialist: On the day after its formation, on 2 December, the Soviet government signed a treaty with the government of the Finnish Democratic Republic. The main provisions of this treaty, which correspond closely to the proposals made by the Soviet government during the Soviet-Finnish negotiations, are summarised by Vaino Tanner in his book ‘The Winter War’: Western sources portray the Finnish Democratic Republic as a mere puppet government, without any popular support. In fact, as we have seen, Finland had already had a socialist revolution and this had been crushed only with massive foreign help. But socialist feelings, and feelings of sympathy for the Socialist Soviet Union, among the Finnish working people was still strong even after the Soviet-Finnish War of 1939-40: But, when the existing Finnish government sued for peace, the Soviet Marxist-Leninists, having no desire to conquer Finland but only to make its own frontiers more secure, were happy to make peace and the Finnish Democratic Republic wound itself up.

The War (1939-40)

In April 1939 Boris Shaposhnikov*, Chief of the Soviet General Staff, was:

Shaposhnikov concluded that a military defeat of Finland would be: In June 1939 the Chief Military Council, chaired by People's Commissar for Defence, Kliment Voroshilov*, rejected Shaposhnikov's views and plans as too pessimistic. Voroshilov was backed in this view by Mekhlis*, head of the Political Directorate of the Red Army: Kyrill Meretskov, then Commander of the Leningrad Military District, was then ordered to prepare new plans for possible war with Finland, making use of the resources of the Leningrad Military District only. Meretskov objected that: Voronov agreed with Shaposhnikov and Meretskov that a campaign against Finland would be a more difficult one than Voroshilov and Mekhlis conceived: When events revealed that Voroshilov had encouraged an underestimation of Finnish military strength, Stalin (according to Khrushchev) 'justifiably' placed the main blame on Voroshilov: As a result, Stalin: On the Finnish front, Marshal Semyon Timoshenko, until then Commander of the North Caucasus, Kharkov and Kiev Military Districts, was: While Meretskov was demoted to command of the 7th Army alone. Later, on 8 May 1940 Voroshilov was demoted from People's Commissar for Defence to the newly created post of Chairman of the government’s Defence Council, and at the same time made a Vice-Premier, being replaced as People's Commissar for Defence by Timoshenko: The difficulties experience by the Red Army in its war with Finland were due:

In the first place to the fact that the Soviet troops had to break through or outflank an extremely strong line of fortifications built across the Karelian Isthmus in the form of the 'Mannerheim Line':

Indeed, many Western military experts insisted that the Mannerheim Line was 'almost impregnable': and Mannerheim himself told his troops on 17 February 1940: Secondly, the war was fought in extremely difficult conditions of terrain and climate: Until almost the last day of the war, Western press reports from Finland gave the impression that the Red Army was being ignominously defeated. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of theAdmiralty, declared in a broadcast on 20 January 1940: Apart from political prejudice, another factor in the creation of this false picture of the Red Army's campaign in Finland was that, in general, correspondents were kept well away from the fighting and forced to rely on official, but largely fictional, Finnish communiques.
George Steer*, the 'Daily Telegraph' special correspondent in Finland. reported from Helsinki on 17 February: and Virginia Cowles* cabled a similar story on 10 March: Thus, when in early March 1940 the Finnish government sued for peace, this came as a surprise to much of world opinion, As G. Ward Price* wrote in the 'Daily Mail' on 14 March 1940: Some military writers, however, did present a more objective picture of the Red Army 5 campaign in Finland. For example, Major Arthur Hooper says in his study of the war: Finally, at the beginning of February, the Red Army launched its main offensive against the Mannerheim Line: A terrific blizzard on the Karelian Isthmus from February 22 to 27 halted the Soviet offensive for a few days, but on the latter date it was resumed. By March 1, Viipuri was surrounded on three sides, and: In its efforts to mobilise support for Finland in the Soviet-Finnish war, Western propaganda took great pains to misrepresent the Soviet war aims as embracing the conquest of the whole of Scandinavia: The then-Finnish Foreign Minister Vaino Tanner declared: In contrast, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov told the 6th Session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on 29 March 1940: Foreign Aid to Finland (1939-40)

The Soviet military victory over Finland was achieved in spite of substantial military aid to Finland from the capitalist world.

On 5 January 1940 it was announced in London:

and in the same month: Substantial quantities of weapons were, in fact, supplied to Finland by the Western Powers.
Details of British and French military aid to Finland were published on 22 February 1940: In the British House of Commons on 19 March 1940, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared: He also gave a list of the material promised and sent to Finland: Although it was illegal under the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870 for a British subject to serve in the forces of a foreign state, on 14 February 1940 it was announced in the House of Commons that: According to a letter from C. T. Garrett, published in the 'New Statesman', By February 1939 it was clear that volunteers could not save from Finland from defeat. This could be achieved only if regular forces went to Finland's aid. So, on 5 February 1940 (as Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told the House of Commons on 19 March): On 28 February 1940 it was announced that: On 7 March 1940 General William Ironside* gave Marshal Mannerheim an account of the British forces being prepared to come to the assistance of Finland: However, the Allied governments were aware that: and neither the Norwegian nor the Swedish governments were prepared to allow the passage of foreign troops through their territories. For this reason, in his last Order of the Day on 14 March 1940, Mannerheim attributed the defeat of the Finnish Army mainly to this refusal: The fact that the Western Powers had been prepared to fight on to the last Finn was emphasised in a leading article in the 'Times' on 5 March: The lawyer and politician Denis Pritt* justly comments that the move to send military aid to Finland despite the fact that Britain was at war with Germany formed part of a move to switch the war against the Soviet Union: Casualties (1939-40)

Casualties in the Soviet-Finnish War were relatively high.

In his last Order of the Day, Mannerheim somewhat underestimated Finnish casualties (at 15,000) and greatly overestimated Soviet casualties (at 200,000):

Official figures of Finnish casualties were: Official figures of Soviet casualties were: The Peace Negotiations (1940)

On 10 March a communique was issued in Helsinki stating that contact had recently been made between the (Ryti) government of Finland and the Soviet government, with Sweden acting as intermediary, and that on the invitation of the Soviet government a Finnish delegation had left Helsinki for Moscow on 6 March, consisting of Prime Minister Risto Ryti; Juho Paasikivi, General Karl Walden* and Professor Vaino Voionmaa.

Mannerheim records in his memoirs: In the case of the peace negotiations, as distinct from the pre-war negotiations, The peace treaty ending the Soviet-Finnish War of 1939-40 was signed on 12 March 1940.

The peace terms which the Soviet government was now prepared to accept were more onerous than those offered before the war. Nevertheless:

The anti-Soviet Foreign Minister Tanner confirmed that: Stephen King-Hall*, in his 'News-Letter', admits: and the Helsinki correspondent of the 'Daily Telegraph' wrote: The Peace Treaty, in fact, provided that: On 29 March 1940 Molotov told the Supreme Soviet of the USSR: The Peace Negotiations (1944-48)

As, during 1944, the German army was forced into retreat from the occupied territories, so the pressure for peace with the Soviet Union grew in Finland.

On l7 March 1944, the Soviet terms for an armistice were handed to the Finnish government, which on 17 March:

However, on 7 September 1944 a Finnish delegation -- consisting of Prime Minister Hackzell, pefence Minister General Rudolf Walden, Chief of Staff  General Erik Heinrichs, and Lieutenant-eneral Oscar Enckell -- arrived in  Moscow to negotiate armistice terms. The negotiations began on 14 September  and were concluded on 19 September, when the armistice was formally signed.

Its principal provisions were:

The peace terms were regarded in the West as 'moderate': On 4 March 1945, in accordance with the Soviet demands, Finland declared that it had been in a state of war with Germany since 15 September 1944, Later in September 1945, a special court for the trial of war criminals was set up, and on 6 November nine prominent Finnish politicians, including Ryti and Tanner, were arrested.

On 11 October 1945 it was announced that:

In November 1945 - February 1946 eight Finnish politicians, including former President Risto Ryti, former Premiers Johan Rangell and Edwin Linkomies, and former Finance Minister Vaino Tanner, were tried on charges: All the accused were found guilty and sentenced to terms of imprisonment.
On 10 February 1947 the Peace Treaty between Finland and the Allied Powers was signed in Paris.

On 27 February 1948 it was officially announced:

The proposal was accepted by the Finnish government on 8 March 1948, and the pact was signed on 6 April 1948.


That fact that it took the Red Army several months to defeat the Finnish forces was used in many quarters to denigrate the efficiency of the Red Army. As Edgar 0'Ballance* puts it:

In fact, testifies O'Ballance: Major Arthur Hooper, in his detailed study of the Soviet-Finnish war, goes even further: and the Military Correspondent of 'Tribune' declares: As the 'News Chronicle 'pointed out after the Soviet victory: The Soviet campaign against Finland was regarded by Soviet military scientists as a model. As Sergey Biriuzov* says, the strategy and tactics adopted by the Red Army in the war with Finland were later successfully applied on a larger scale in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45: A number of Western correspondents pay tribute to the tactical skill of the Red Army: to its ingenuity and inventiveness: and to the bravery of its soldiers: This did not prevent 'Daily Herald' from reporting in February that A month later, after the war had ended and General Meretskov had been decorated with the Order of Lenin, the press was reporting: The final word on the Soviet-Finnish war of 1939-40 may be given to Read and Fisher: