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The Finnish-Soviet relations during the Cold War

Discussions on the Cold War era (1946-1991).

The Finnish-Soviet relations during the Cold War

Postby Hanski on 15 Feb 2004 09:51

It might interest members of this forum to discuss what happened after the WWII between Finland and the Soviet Union, as the wars between them 1939-40 and 1941-44 are already covered in the Axis Nations -thread "Finland and Russia".

So, Finland had fought the WWII as a co-belligerent with the III Reich, which as we know became the losing side. The peace terms were finally determined in the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947 with the Allies. How did it go on from there?

After the destruction of the Second World War, Finland had concentrated her energy in rebuilding the country and paying the immense war reparations to the Soviet Union as industrial products, in accordance with the Paris peace treaty of 1947. Finland chose not to receive Marshall Aid from the U.S.A., as it would have upset the Soviets. Spending on national defence had been kept at its all-time low for a prolonged period of time for reasons of political procrastination, which dragged on until the 1960’s.

The legacy of the Second World War and Finland’s geographic location dictated the key elements in her security policy. Since 6th April 1948, on Generalissimo Stalin’s demand Finland had a Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance Treaty (FCMA Treaty) with the U.S.S.R., in Finnish “Ystävyys-, yhteistyö- ja avunantosopimus” (“YYA-sopimus”). It was to remain in force until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The FCMA Treaty placed an obligation on Finland to defend her territory either by herself or jointly with the Soviet Union in the event of a military threat on Finland or the Soviet Union via Finnish Territory by Germany or any country aligned with it (i.e., NATO).

In her pursuit of staying outside of conflicts of interest between the great powers, Finland strove to stay neutral and to get international acknowledgement to her neutral status. By international law, a neutral country always has the obligation to prevent her territory from hostile use against parties of the conflict, so this obligation to deny access to Finnish territory would have been there regardless. According to the FCMA Treaty, the joint measures of defence were to be agreed upon only after mutual consultations between Finland and the U.S.S.R., as opposed to an automatic mechanism of action as decreed in the Warsaw Pact between the Soviet Union and her Eastern European satellites, obliging the parties to joint defence whenever any one of them should become under attack.

Despite the difference between the FCMA Treaty and the Charter of the Warsaw Pact, the Treaty with Soviet influence and interference in Finnish politics caused widespread Western doubt and misunderstanding about the status of Finland, a multi-party parliamentary democracy “in the hug of the Russian bear”. Even if Finland in Western eyes was not regarded as an outright ally of the U.S.S.R. and if Western statesmen politely acknowledged her neutral status in public, the media often depicted Finland as a “pink” or “grey” zone on the map of Europe, unlike Sweden or Switzerland, which were considered genuinely neutral.

What the Western media did not commonly know, the Finnish Defence Forces never had the slightest hesitation in their commitment to an all-out effort in defending Finland, should the Soviet Union have invaded. In 1983 the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) General Bernard W. Rogers insulted and provoked the Finns by doubting this in public in an interview by the largest Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat.

The term “Finlandization” was coined for the debate in West German internal politics, and as the term was used in Germany and other NATO countries, it expressed the process of turning into a neutral country which, although maintaining sovereignty, in foreign politics resolves not to challenge a big and mighty neighbour. In Finland the use of the term was perceived as stemming from an inability to understand the practicalities of how a small nation might hope to make a deal with a culturally and ideologically alien superpower without losing its sovereignty. While the political and intellectual elite understood the term to be more a reference to foreign policy problems of other countries, meant mostly for domestic consumption in the speakers own country; many ordinary Finns considered the term highly offensive.

In 1961 the world had once more suffered from mounting tension over Berlin with building of the wall, and since August the Soviet Union had been conducting a series of 50 nuclear tests on the Arctic island of Novaya Zemlya, reaching its peak in a final gigantic 50-megaton blast (See: "Tsar Bomba", at http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Russia/Sovwarhead.html ). Finland was then preparing for her next elections for the Office of the President of the Republic, for the six-year term beginning in 1962. Dr Urho Kaleva Kekkonen was serving his first term in Presidency since 1956, now running for his second one. He had a serious challenger in Mr Olavi Honka, the Chancellor of Justice.

Mr Andrei Gromyko, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the U.S.S.R., submitted an official note to Mr Eero A. Wuori, the Ambassador of Finland in Moscow on 30th October 1961. It shocked the nation as soon as it became public. The Soviet Note suggested consultations “on measures to secure the defence of the borders of both countries against the threat of a military attack presented by Western Germany and the states allied with it”, in accordance with the FCMA Treaty.

To everyone’s relief, in the negotiations between President Kekkonen and the Soviet Premier Nikita Sergeyevich Khruschev in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk on 24th November, the crisis was finally resolved on political level without the need of formal FCMA consultations. The dramatic circumstances caused the major contestant, Mr Olavi Honka, to withdraw his candidacy for the Presidency, which was decisive for the outcome of the election campaign and secured Dr Kekkonen’s continued grip on power in Finland. This gave rise to later persistent political speculations about “a note made to order”, although the message was likely to come from the supreme Soviet military lead, expressing their non-confidence in Finland’s capability for national defence in the long-lasting poor material situation. Be it as it may, the Soviet Union certainly wanted continuity to Dr Kekkonen’s foreign policy, which set the highest priority in maintaining good relations with the U.S.S.R.

In later years, there was repeated Soviet pressure on Finland culminating in insistent demands for joint military exercises in the spirit of the FCMA Treaty in 1978, but President Kekkonen simply dismissed Soviet attempts at bringing up the topic. These negotiations never leaked to the media at the time, and serious damage to Finland’s international political status was avoided.

One of the consequences of the Note Crisis of 1961 was the determined rebuilding of Finland’s neglected post-war national defence, with priority on air defence. It led to the procurement of a squadron of MiG-21F-13 fighters, which lifted Finland's air defence on a new level of sophistication and effectiveness, the Army received T-54 and T-55 tanks and Soviet artillery pieces, the Navy obtained a number of small warships suited for the coastal defence, and more modern equivalents for all of these followed in the course of years. The arsenal of Finland was in value roughly one third from the East, one third from the West, and one third domestic production. The Finnish military had a pragmatic professional attitude in trying to get the most out of it, regardless of the origin.
Last edited by Hanski on 28 May 2004 16:00, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Zygmunt on 25 Apr 2004 16:27

I hadn't realised that the term "Finlandisation" could be offensive. I suppose I just hadn't thought about it much. It always struck me as refering to the compromises a small country must inevitably make in order to co-exist with a superpower. It also struck me as requiring some very delicate diplomacy to pull off - for example, the balanced defence procurement mentioned in the "Finnish-US military co-operation during cold war" thread. Other countries have failed at it. I refer specifically to Afghanistan which, for a while in the 70s was said by western observers to be heading for Finlandisation, and we all know how that ended.

I had never intended (or perceived) any insult in the term.

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Postby Hanski on 25 Apr 2004 16:41

Zygmunt wrote:...It always struck me as refering to the compromises a small country must inevitably make in order to co-exist with a superpower. It also struck me as requiring some very delicate diplomacy to pull off - for example, the balanced defence procurement mentioned in the "Finnish-US military co-operation during cold war" thread. Other countries have failed at it.


Your way above of perceiving it is precisely how the Finns themselves wanted to think about their foreign policy at the time -- it was a skill, even an art, to play the game with a Superpower maintaining your own sovereignty, while there is nothing you can do about geography.

However, the term "Finlandization" was often used in the West with a derogatory tone: "you are not really independent and not really neutral, you will comply with whatever the Russians will tell you..."
- And that was what Finns hated to hear!

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Postby Hanski on 12 May 2004 16:22

Here is another, quite authoritative web page on the subject:

http://virtual.finland.fi/finfo/english/after.html

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Postby Hanski on 28 Aug 2005 23:02

I would be curious to know how Finland was referred to in the Soviet media of 1960-1991, or whether it got any attention at all. For example, was the 1961 Note to Finland after the Berlin crisis published to any extent to the Soviet audience? How about the personality of the long-term Finnish president, Urho Kekkonen -- was he commented upon in any way? From the Soviet perspective, was Finland "one of us" (nearly a Warsaw Pact country), "a Western capitalist country" (almost an enemy), or neutral? Was the Friendship, Co-Operation and Mutual Assistance Treaty (FCMA Treaty) explained to the Soviet public? Was any information given on the standard of living in Finland?
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Postby bratello on 28 Aug 2005 23:46

Hanski wrote:I would be curious to know how Finland was referred to in the Soviet media of 1960-1991, or whether it got any attention at all. For example, was the 1961 Note to Finland after the Berlin crisis published to any extent to the Soviet audience? How about the personality of the long-term Finnish president, Urho Kekkonen -- was he commented upon in any way? From the Soviet perspective, was Finland "one of us" (nearly a Warsaw Pact country), "a Western capitalist country" (almost an enemy), or neutral? Was the Friendship, Co-Operation and Mutual Assistance Treaty (FCMA Treaty) explained to the Soviet public? Was any information given on the standard of living in Finland?

Finland was basically perceived as a model of co-existance between a socialist (the USSR) and a capitalist (Finland) countries. Kekkonen was a "good old friend". Finnish high standard of living was not featured in the Soviet media. Among potential Soviet defectors Finland was a "no go" place: Finns had to return the defectors back to the USSR.
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Postby bratello on 28 Aug 2005 23:50

Zygmunt wrote:I hadn't realised that the term "Finlandisation" could be offensive (...) I had never intended (or perceived) any insult in the term. Zygmunt

See viewtopic.php?p=680971&highlight=finlandization#680971
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Postby Hanski on 29 Aug 2005 14:38

bratello wrote:Finland was basically perceived as a model of co-existance between a socialist (the USSR) and a capitalist (Finland) countries. Kekkonen was a "good old friend".
This corresponds well with the "display window" idea, like it was understood in Finland the Soviets like to portray it.

Finnish high standard of living was not featured in the Soviet media.
I remember having heard of a Soviet delegation from the city of Murmansk who came to visit the "capital of Lapland", Rovaniemi in Northern Finland in the 1960's or 70's. Members of the delegation suspected that a deliberate propaganda show had been staged just for their visit by concentrating an extra number of private cars to Rovaniemi, otherwise they did not believe it was possible to see such an amount of person cars in a city with that population.

Finnish tourists could make a lot of roubles on their trips to the Soviet Union then, by selling everyday consumer items like ballpoint pens, clothes etc.

Among potential Soviet defectors Finland was a "no go" place: Finns had to return the defectors back to the USSR.
This policy was adopted by the Finnish authorities for two reasons: 1. If they had acted otherwise, an increasing number of defectors could have been expected in the future, inevitably leading to politically awkward situations with the Soviet authorities 2. Some of the defectors might have been in reality KGB agents, so the sooner they were returned the better. However, I am not 100% sure whether there were individual cases yet when political asylum was granted.

The tight border guarding at Soviet times and controlled travel meant that there was no risk of mafiosos crossing the border to Finland at that time.
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Postby bratello on 29 Aug 2005 21:07

Hanski wrote:...However, I am not 100% sure whether there were individual cases yet when political asylum was granted.

I've never heard of any in regards to Soviet defectors.
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Postby Harri on 29 Aug 2005 22:44

bratello wrote:
Hanski wrote:...However, I am not 100% sure whether there were individual cases yet when political asylum was granted.
I've never heard of any in regards to Soviet defectors.


I think some cases were handled in the same way as in 1944 - 1945 when a relatively large portion of Ingrians, Estonians and other former Soviet citizens who didn't want to go back to USSR were let escape to Sweden. It is possible that some could also stay in Finland (at least for a short while) but probably KGB or Finnish police which straight after the war was under the supervision of the Communists could have spotted them too easily and they had to continue further to save their lives. Finland was anyway not a very rare route to the west and without any "influence" of the Finns that would have been much more difficult.

It has been revealed in Finland (for example by the former Commander of the Finnish Defence Forces General Lauri Sutela) that during the Cold War Finland led by President Urho Kekkonen actually balanced between the East and West taking into account what USSR wished but keeping certain distance with them and at the same time co-operated in secrecy with the West. That co-operation included at least "changing of information" but it may have contained something else too. Without doubt everything is not yet known.
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Postby Hanski on 30 Aug 2005 20:45

At least I remember one famous defector from the 1980's on top of my head. A talented Russian violinist, Yekaterina Mullova, was performing in Finland and ended up defecting to Sweden, apparently assisted by her Finnish friends. But action of private persons is of course different from Finnish authorities granting asylum or arranging transit to Sweden.
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Postby Hanski on 16 Sep 2005 10:17

A study on the Finnish policy towards Soviet defectors has recently been published.

http://www.helsinginsanomat.fi/english/ ... 1980957580

http://www.helsinginsanomat.fi/english/ ... 1981006670


About the foundations of post-WWII Finnish general foreign policy towards the USSR, these articles give a good overview:

http://reference.allrefer.com/country-g ... and32.html

http://reference.allrefer.com/country-g ... and33.html
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Postby Hanski on 30 Sep 2005 21:55

This review of Juhani Suomi's edition of the last volume of President Kekkonen's diaries is very illustrative of the Finnish-Soviet relations during the 1970's - 1980's, or what the reality was behind the "display window" of mutual friendship, repeated time and again in the official liturgy.

http://www.helsinginsanomat.fi/english/ ... 6154073568


As an example of the typical dishonesty of Finnish communists, here is how they covered up history from their countrymen:

http://www.helsinginsanomat.fi/english/ ... 1981126225
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Postby Hanski on 06 Oct 2005 11:16

This article with its links has some quite interesting descriptions on how things were in the immediate aftermath of the WWII, when genuine fear of Soviet occupation still prevailed in Finland.

http://www.helsinginsanomat.fi/english/ ... 6154119137


These ones deal with the less than glorious days of Finlandization.

http://www.helsinginsanomat.fi/english/ ... 1981167608

http://www.helsinginsanomat.fi/english/ ... 1981206401


A recent book has raised debate about the so-called war guilt trials:

http://www.helsinginsanomat.fi/english/ ... 1981482973
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Postby Hanski on 31 Jan 2006 17:16

The return of Porkkala was a great relief for the Finns, but the condition in which it was returned was no delight:

http://www.hs.fi/english/article/1135218578345
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