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Finland - Soviet/Russia Relations

During the Napoleonic wars, France and Russia became allies in 1807 at Tilsit, and Napoleon urged Russia to force Sweden into joining them against Britain. Tsar Alexander I invaded Finland in 1808, and Sweden's poorly-organized defenses were defeated in 1809. Sweden formally ceded Finland to Russia by the Treaty of Hamina (Swedish, Fredrikshamn) on September 17, 1809. More than a century of Russian rule in Finland ended in 1917.

Historically, Finland had been a source of strategic concern to the Soviet Union because of its proximity to the densely populated, industrialized zone centered on the Soviet Union's second largest city, Leningrad. Although Leningrad was still important militarily, by the 1970s the strategic focus had shifted northward, where sparsely inhabited Finnish Lapland lies close to the concentration of Soviet bases and ports on the Kola Peninsula. Upon the outbreak of war, these northernmost regions of Europe would, in all likelihood, become a key area of conflict. Finland's northern defenses, both ground and air, had been reinforced during the 1970s and the 1980s to emphasize its determination to prevent Lapland from becoming a corridor for attack by one of the military alliances.

Finland's interwar security policy was dominated by fear of an attack by the Soviet Union. Two of its priorities were to end the conflict between Finland and the Soviet Union that had continued unofficially since the civil war and to settle the Soviet-Finnish boundary. Negotiations were held intermittently between 1918 and 1920, leading in October 1920 to the signing of the Treaty of Dorpat.

In it, Finland received all of the land it had held under Russian rule plus the Petsamo area, which gave Finland a port on the Arctic Ocean. At this point, Finland controlled more territory than it had at any other time in its history. The Soviet-Finnish border on the Karelian Isthmus was drawn only thirty kilometers from Leningrad (formerly St. Petersburg). The new border caused some Soviet apprehension because it placed the city and the vital naval base at Kronstadt within the range of the Finns' heavy artillery. Finland's relations with the Soviet Union had been problematic from the beginning, because of the Finns' strong historical distrust for Russia and the inherent incompatibility of the two political systems. The Finns saw themselves as occupying an exposed outpost of Western civilization.

The mistrust between the countries had been strengthened by the tsarist policies of Russification, by the Bolsheviks' participation in the Finnish revolution, and by continued Soviet efforts to foster subversion in Finland. From the Soviet viewpoint, the Greater Finland agitation and the blossoming of ideological anticommunism in Finland posed a threat. In 1932 the Soviet Union and Finland signed a ten-year non-aggression pact, which, however, did not mitigate the mutual distrust illustrated in part by the Soviets' cessation of all trade between the two countries in 1934 that was to culminate in war.

In dealing with the Soviet threat, Finland was unable to find effective outside help. The Finns sought assistance first from the other Baltic states, and in March 1922 an agreement was signed by Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Poland. The Finns soon realized, however, that in a crisis no substantial help would be forthcoming from these countries, and they thereupon sought support through active membership in the League of Nations. The breakdown of collective security in the 1930s led the Finns to seek security through a collective neutrality with the other Nordic states, but that arrangement offered no effective counterweight to the Soviets. The more powerful Britain and France did not take a major interest in the Baltic area.

Throughout this period, the Finnish ruling circles had been strongly pro-German in outlook, in large part as a result of the civil war. For this reason, the Soviets developed the suspicion that Finland would allow Germany to use its territory as a base from which to invade the Soviet Union. Although Soviet fears were unfounded, the Finns did little to allay them. In 1937 a German submarine flotilla visited Helsinki, and it was greeted warmly by the people and by the government. In April and in May 1938, the Finnish government presided over two great celebrations, marking the twentieth anniversary of the entry of German troops into Helsinki and of the entry of Mannerheim's forces into Helsinki, respectively, events that numerous prominent Germans attended. The Finns were also indiscreet in allowing a German naval squadron to visit Helsinki. Soviet suspicions were fuelled again by the visit to Finland in June 1939 of the German army chief of staff, General Franz Halder, who was received by the government in Helsinki and who viewed Finnish army maneuvers on the Karelian Isthmus.

In summation, Finnish foreign policy between the wars was genuinely unaggressive in relation to the Soviet Union, but it lacked the appearance of unaggressiveness, a deficiency that Finland since World War II has been at pains to remedy.

With German help, Finland established regular armed forces in 1918 to 1919, using the army of the Whites as a foundation. Beginning in the 1920s, conscription was introduced, and most Finnish males were trained for military service. Finnish military doctrine presumed an essentially defensive war in which Finland's forests, lakes, and other geographical obstacles could be exploited to advantage. The Defense Review Committee, in its report of 1926, called for the establishment of a Finnish army of thirteen divisions, equipped with the most modern arms, as the surest means of deterring a possible Soviet invasion. Because of budget restraints, however, these recommendations were instituted only in part.

When the Soviet Union did attack in November 1939, Finland had only nine available divisions, and their equipment was generally inadequate. Beginning in 1931, however, General Mannerheim had contributed ably to Finnish military preparations from his position as chairman of the Defense Council, and thousands of citizens spent the summer of 1939, without pay, strengthening the Mannerheim Line of fortifications on the Karelian Isthmus. The line later proved to be the anchor of Finland's defenses in this important area.

The principal architect of the post-1944 foreign policy of neutrality was J.K. Paasikivi, who was President from 1946 to 1956. Urho Kekkonen, President from 1956 until 1981, further developed this policy, stressing that Finland should be an active rather than a passive neutral. This policy is now popularly known as the "Paasikivi-Kekkonen Line."

Finland and the U.S.S.R. signed a peace treaty at Paris in February 1947 limiting the size of Finland's defense forces and providing for the cession to the Soviet Union of the Petsamo area on the Arctic coast, the Karelian Isthmus in southeastern Finland, and other territory along the former eastern border. Another provision, terminated in 1956, leased the Porkkala area near Helsinki to the U.S.S.R. for use as a naval base and gave free access to this area across Finnish territory.

The 1947 treaty also called for Finland to pay to the Soviet Union reparations of 300 million gold dollars (amounting to an estimated $570 million in 1952, the year the payments ended). Although an ally of the Soviet Union in World War II, the United States was not a signatory to this treaty because it had not been at war with Finland.

In April 1948, Finland signed an Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union. Under this mutual assistance pact, Finland was obligated--with the aid of the Soviet Union, if necessary--to resist armed attacks by Germany or its allies against Finland or against the U.S.S.R. through Finland. At the same time, the agreement recognized Finland's desire to remain outside great-power conflicts. This agreement was renewed for 20 years in 1955, in 1970, and again in 1983 to the year 2003, although the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union led to the agreement's abrogation.

The Finnish military relationship vis-a-vis the Soviet Union was governed by the 1948 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, which committed Finland to use all of its available forces to repel an attack from the West, if necessary with the assistance of the Soviet Union. Soviet involvement would, however, require Finland's assent. To preclude the possibility of the Soviet Union's insisting on introducing its forces onto Finnish soil under the pretext of a developing threat, Finland deemed it essential that the Finnish Defense Forces be perceived as having the capability to deny the hostile transit of Finnish territory. The Finnish defense posture thus gave considerable emphasis to effective surveillance and alertness in order to detect violations of Finnish air space and land and sea intrusions in any part of the country.

The Finns responded cautiously in 1990-91 to the decline of Soviet power and the U.S.S.R.'s subsequent dissolution. They unilaterally abrogated restrictions imposed by the 1947 and 1948 treaties, joined in voicing Nordic concern over the coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and gave increasing unofficial encouragement to Baltic independence.

At the same time, by replacing the Soviet-Finnish mutual assistance pact with treaties on general cooperation and trade, Finns put themselves on an equal footing while retaining a friendly bilateral relationship. Finland now is boosting cross-border commercial ties and touting its potential as a commercial gateway to Russia. It has reassured Russia that it will not raise claims for Finnish territory seized by the U.S.S.R. and continues to reaffirm the importance of good bilateral relations.

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