The Winter War of 1939: Frozen Diplomacy or Polar Meltdown?

27 Oct

Research Paper Prospectus Written By Simon Sundaraj-Keun

Finland a land of natural and cultural beauty that is common to the region of Northern Europe as a whole. This winter wonderland was once a frozen battlefield wage between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1939-40. The Winter War of 1939 was the catalyst that drifted the Finns into the Axis sphere as un-allied co-belligerents. This war would leave a lasting legacy on Finnish history and politics.

The main question that comes to mind is why did the Soviets start this conflict? Other questions like why did the Finns let it happen? How Soviet quest for national security did impacted its diplomacy? What happen to Finland’s allies during the Winter War? These questions emphasize that the needs of one’s national security could be achieved at the expense of others. There are other factors that will be discussed in this topic which covers the military and domestic political aspects that prolonged the conflict. The Winter War in some aspect was a conflict that pitted two completely different forms of governments against each other.

The clash of liberal and communist ideologies was marred in blood for the honor and glory of the Soviet Union and Finland during the Winter War. This research paper main thesis is to understand the failure of diplomacy and its implication in Soviet-Finnish diplomatic relations in 1939. The Soviet Union backed their diplomatic initiative with its military and Finland’s diplomatic decisions were heavily influenced by its domestic politics. The two states have a different outlook on the problem which would leave the Soviets to emphasize more on security and the Finns to preserve its national sovereignty by any means deem necessary.

Therefore, the investigation of Finland’s diplomatic capability during the Winter War has to begin with a historical analysis to the origin of the conflict. The Winter War (also known as the Soviet-Finnish War or the Russo-Finnish War) broke out when the Soviet Union invaded Finland on November 30, 1939. The Finns were diplomatically isolated due to the fact World War II started on September 1, 1939. Its French and British allies could not send military aid due to the German blockade in the Baltic Sea. Plus Sweden neutrality outweighs Finland’s desperation for aid and supplies in the face of the Soviet war machine.

However the Soviet’s aggressions led to their expulsions from the League of Nations on December 14, 1939. The Soviets became diplomatically isolated by its Western European neighbors who viewed the Winter War as a battle between Communism and the Free World. Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin was not hindered by diplomatic isolation continued the war with belief of conquering Finland by the end of 1939. The Soviets outnumbered the Finns by a ratio of four to one but the Finns manage to infuriate their invaders by prolonging the conflict and inflicting massive casualties.
Finland held out until March 1940, while a peace treaty was signed conceding about 10% of Finland’s land, and 20% of its industrial facilities, to the Soviet Union. Although the Soviet forces ultimately were able to shatter the Finnish defenses, neither the Soviet Union nor Finland emerged victorious from the war. Soviet casualties on the front-line were tremendous, and the country’s international prestige eroded. The Finns miraculously preserved their independence and received extensive international support.

Secondary sources found for this research paper ranges from books, articles, internet websites, and movies that give an insightful and scholarly interpretation on the international support for the Finns. The added information from the variety of secondary sources gives this research paper the ability to assess the diplomatic dilemma faced by Finland during the Winter War. These books do not confine to a single theme but contains multiple themes that paint a better picture on the diplomacy of the Winter War. The existing secondary sources would provide ideas that might be left out in the initial research.

The main objective of the primary sources for this research paper is to give a clearer perspective from the viewpoint of the Finnish and Soviet governments during this time period. There are numerous published primary sources ranging from diaries, journals, memoirs, and newspapers but official government documents and diplomatic treaties would be beneficial in understanding the motivation for war. The problems found within these primary sources are the existence of bias which was attributed to publication of these documents prior, during, and shortly after the conflict. This bias that was found was due to the misconception and distrust of both the Soviets and Finns had for each other. The primary published sources of government documents found were authentic and informative in adding a direct analysis on the origins behind this conflict.

In order to comprehend the Soviet invasion of Finland one has to examine the Soviet-Nazi mutual nonaggression pact (also know as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) signed on August 22, 1939. This pact allowed the Soviets and Nazi Germany to allocate countries in Eastern Europe between the two powers. Finland came into the picture due to the fact it was a co-signed of the Soviet sphere of influence pact (Soviet-Finnish mutual non-aggression pact) that same month. The Russo-Finnish diplomatic situation spiral down like a maelstrom devouring a Viking longboat when the Soviets wanted the Finns to push back its border 25 kilometers from Soviet city of Leningrad. This move by the Soviets was justified with the Germans military demonstration of speed and potency in conquering Poland in a short amount of time.
The Finns disagree to the terms due to its larger industrial centers was located in and around the disputed territory. So the Soviets staged the Shelling of Mainila, in which the Soviets artillery shelled regions around the Russian village of Mainila, and then announced it was the Finns who shelled the village. The Soviets demand an apology and forcefully insisted the Finns to move its border back 25 kilometers but the Finns denied responsibility and the Soviets request. So the Soviets withdrew from the non-aggression pact and invaded Finland but the Finns stood their ground alone for the next six months.

The conclusion of the Winter Wars was due in part to the inability of the Soviets to defeat the Finns. This research paper is not to prove the military resolve of the Soviet Union and Finland but the used of the military as a tool for diplomatic settlement during this conflict. In a matter of speaking the Winter War was Finland’s fight for survival against the Soviet juggernaut. The results of the Winter War pushed the Finns further into the Axis camp due to the fact they were block into a corner by the Soviets. The Soviets quest for national security demonstrated their military weakness that resulted in an invasion by the Germans in 1941. The research done on this topic is to conclude the impact of the Winter War on Finland who lost a considerable amount of territory to the Soviets during this conflict. It also proves that the Finns were not military defeated but instead came out politically and diplomatically stronger compared to the Soviets during the Winter War of 1939.

This topic research paper is a combination of domestic politics and diplomatic concepts which intermingle with the brief chronological events that spark the outbreak of the Winter War. The fear of neglecting a single of these aspects would deprive the academic value of this paper that would be beneficial to existing scholarly collection. For instance international diplomatic support for Finland during the Winter War was in most part thanks to Soviet’s diplomatic miscalculations by initiating hostilities. The other reason why the Winter War was unique is due to the fact that World War II had not yet begun in earnest. World opinion was for the Finns during the Winter War because it was the only real fighting besides the German and Soviet on-going pacification of Poland. In turn the world concluded that Soviet aggression on Finland was totally unjustified.

The Winter War of 1939: Frozen Diplomacy or Polar Meltdown? is an intriguing topic because it is one of the least discussed events in history due to the fact it was overshadowed by World War II. There are numerous sources which were primary in Finnish and even fewer exist in the English language which makes it difficult in obtaining them for further research. Plus each underlining theme as stated earlier are interconnected with the main objective of what this paper intends to accomplish.

This research will cover the diplomatic and domestic political background that motivated the Soviets and Finns to go to war with each other. In order to completely a successful research one has to examine the impact of war on diplomacy from different angles like the military and politics during the Winter War. Those aspects intermingle with one another by being an important factor that galvanized Finland’s sense of unity and independence in the face of Soviet annihilation.

Finally, there is no right answer for the Winter War of 1939 but there was a breakdown in diplomacy which led to political, territorial, emotional, and psychological ramifications on the Soviets and Finns. The Finns was significantly influenced by the Winter War with a firm emphasis to ally themselves with the Axis powers in order to seek retribution on the Soviets who wronged them. The diplomatic legacy of the Winter War was a direct cause of Soviet Union military adventurism policies and Finland’s arrogance to threat beyond its Eastern border which eventually led to the bleeding of the Finns during World War II.


Primary Published Sources

Finland. Ulkoasiainministeriö. The Finnish blue book; the development of Finnish-Soviet relations during the autumn of 1939, including the official documents and the Peace treaty of March 12, 1940. New York: Pub. for the Ministry of foreign affairs of Finland, J. B. Lippincott company. c1940

Finland. Ulkoasiainministeriö. Finland reveals her secret documents on soviet policy. New York: W. Funk, inc., 1941.
Secondary Sources

Dallin, David J., Soviet Russia’s foreign policy, 1939-1942. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1942.

Engle, Eloise; Paananen, Lauri. The Winter War: The Soviet Attack on Finland 1939-1940. Helsinki: Stackpole Books. 1992

Jacobs, Travis Beal. America and the winter war, 1939-1940. New York : Garland Pub., 1981.

Jakobson, Max. Finland survived : an account of the Finnish-Soviet winter war, 1939-1940. Helsinki, Finland: Otova Publishing Co., 1984

Nevakivi, Jukka. The appeal that was never made: the Allies, Scandinavia, and the Finnish Winter War, 1939-1940. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1976.

Ries, Tomas. Cold Will: Defence of Finland. New York: Brassey’s Publishing. 1988.

Ruotsila, Markku. Churchill and Finland: a study in anticommunism and geopolitics. New York: Frank Cass, 2005.

Schwartz, Andrew J. America and the Russo-Finnish War. Washington, Public Affairs Press. 1960.

Trotter, William R. A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940 (also published as The Winter War). Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books. 1991.

Upton, Anthony F. Finland, 1939-1940. London: Davis-Poynter, 1974.

Van Dyke, Carl. The Soviet Invasion of Finland, 1939-40. London: Frank Cass Publishers. 1997.


One Response to “The Winter War of 1939: Frozen Diplomacy or Polar Meltdown?”

  1. Nikos Chatzis /GlobalNewsPointer October 27, 2012 at 17:38 #

    Reblogged this on interestingnewsglobally and commented:
    Worth reading! Check interesting posts here

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