The image that most of us have of Finland is that of an idyllic country, with beautiful landscapes, exuberant nature, great quality of life, northern lights, moose… However, the Finns always live with the long shadow cast by their gigantic Russian neighbor, who with a simple breath could blow everything down.
And we must not forget that Finland was from the beginning of the 19th century part of tsarist Russia as the Duchy of Finland and before that part of its territory was integrated into the Republic of Novgorod, in such a way that, in one way or another, always they have been crushed, in one way or another, by such a powerful neighbor.
The country finally saw its moment of independence in 1917 when, on December 6, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, it declared its independence. And in those that came the Second World War, a period in which Finland fought three wars: the so-called Winter War (1939-1940), the Continuation War (1941-1944) and the Lapland War (1944-1945) . The first two were against the USSR and the third against Nazi Germany.
The most striking thing is that the small and incipient country, barely populated, faced the almighty USSR… and was not defeated. It all started when the Soviet Union attacked Finland on November 30, 1939, three months after the start of World War II. The conflict began after the Soviets sought to obtain Finnish territory, demanding among other concessions that Finland cede substantial border territories in exchange for land elsewhere, citing security reasons, primarily the protection of Leningrad, 32 kilometers from the Finnish border. Finland refused, so the Soviet Union invaded the country.
Finland repelled Soviet attacks for more than two months and inflicted substantial losses on the invaders, while temperatures plummeted to -43 °C. After the Soviet Army reorganized and adopted different tactics, they renewed their offensive in February and finally, and not without effort, defeated the Finnish defenses. Hostilities ceased in March 1940 with the signing of the Moscow Peace Treaty.
Finland cannot be said to have won, as it had to cede 11% of its territory, which represented 30% of its economy, to the Soviet Union. Soviet losses were heavy and the country’s international reputation suffered. Soviet gains exceeded its prewar demands and it received substantial territory along Lake Ladoga and in northern Finland.
However, Finland retained its sovereignty, which it maintains to this day, and undoubtedly improved its international reputation. The poor performance of the Red Army encouraged Adolf Hitler to think that an attack on the Soviet Union would be successful and confirmed the West’s negative views of the Soviet Army. After 15 months of provisional peace, in June 1941, Nazi Germany began Operation Barbarossa and the Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union began.
Shortly after, the second war broke out between the two countries, the so-called Continuation War, between June 25, 1941 and September 19, 1944. In this war, Finland acted as an ally of Nazi Germany, so hostilities began suddenly. parallel to the German invasion of the Soviet Union.
In Finland the war was given its name in order to make clear its character as a continuation of the Winter War of 1939, which explains why this war has traditionally been seen as a separate engagement from World War II, even though various operations were executed in the context of the conflict in question.
When Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Finland launched its offensive, and in a short time managed to recover the territories lost in the previous Winter War, such as the Karelian Isthmus and the shores of Lake Ladoga, and even more, by invading the region. Russian East Karelia, advancing only thirty kilometers from the city of Leningrad.
However, little by little the front stabilized and the situation remained relatively stable for a few years, until June 1944, when the Fourth Soviet Offensive was carried out, with the Red Army managing to expel the Finns from most of the territories. they had occupied during the war. The offensive, however, managed to be contained in August.
Hostilities between Finland and the Soviet Union ended with a ceasefire formalized by the signing of the Moscow Armistice on September 19, 1944. One of the most important conditions of this agreement was the termination of Finland’s alliance with Germany, which meant the expulsion or disarmament of any German troops on Finnish territory.
Following the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1947, the former borders of Finland were restored. In addition, Finland was forced to cede the municipality of Petsamo and the lease of the Porkkala Peninsula to the USSR. In addition, Finland was required to pay $300 million in war reparations.
Relations after WWII
The Finnish President Urho Kekkonen in office from 1956 to 1982, he focused on maintaining friendly and close relations with Moscow to preserve independence by avoiding conflict, a tactic known as Finnishization.
The end of the Cold War allowed Finland to emerge from the shadow of Russia and join the European Union in 1995, as well as the Eurozone in 1999. Its integration into the EU and the signing of its mutual defense clause meant that Finland changed from neutrality to military non-alignmentbut Finland chose to remain outside the western defense alliance NATO .
As of 2020, only about 20% of Finns wanted Finland to join NATO in polls, with most people believing that peace was best kept by maintaining friendly relations and economic ties with Russia. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed the mood among Finns, with around 76% of people in favor of joining NATO and only 12% against.
And now that?
Could a war break out again between the two countries? Although just a few months ago no one would have bet on it, now the stakes are high and nothing can be ruled out. The main difference is that if Finland finally enters NATO, any attack by Putin against his Scandinavian neighbor would have the military response of the entire Atlantic Alliance, probably unleashing a world-wide war.