Finlandisation as the endgame?
In 1947 and 1948, Finland signed treaties with Joseph Stalin after fighting two wars against the Soviet Union. The first “winter war”, between November 1939 and March 1940, occurred when Stalin invaded Finland, just as Putin has invaded Ukraine. In an echo of today, the Finns fought heroically and the Red Army disastrously, but in the end they were forced to sue for peace. The war continued when Nazi Germany invaded Russian in 1941. By 1944, the Finns realised they were on the losing side of World War Two and negotiated a separate armistice.
While there are similarities here, the political and psychological context is quite different from Ukraine today. Finland was on the losing side of a much wider war – not once but twice. Notwithstanding this, Stalin was relatively generous, preoccupied as he was with crushing freedom in Poland, East Germany and the rest of what became the Warsaw Pact.
And so, Finland was not re-annexed, nor were Finnish Communists empowered to simply take over. Finland was allowed to keep its democratic institutions and free elections. Trade with the West, while allowed, was hedged. Finland only became a full member of the European Free Trade Area in 1986, and joining the EEC was out of the question. Moreover, Finland had to pay enormous war reparations – a whole sector of the Finnish economy was committed to serving the Russians. They also had to accept a large Russian military base on their territory, which was only removed in 1956.
Finland was therefore obliged to be a neutral state, not by choice, but through a mixture of formal written guarantees and informal ‘understandings’ between Russian leaders and a handful of senior Finnish politicians. While Finland could remain a free western-oriented country, they were to do nothing as regards military and foreign policy that might threaten the USSR. That meant returning many Russian dissidents back to the KGB and turning a blind eye to systematic human rights violations and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, then premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev had perfected the not-so-subtle art of interfering in Finnish politics to signal his displeasure at the make-up of Finnish coalition governments. Some Finnish parties had to informally agree to not join a government regardless of votes, lest it offend the Russians. The Soviet Politburo [executive committee] repeatedly signalled that they expected Urho Kekkonen to remain President of Finland for as long as possible, as ‘their man’ with whom they could do business. Kekkonen dominated Finnish politics for almost two decades. Finally, in 1991, Finland dumped their servile relationship with Russia. While remaining non-aligned they have joined the EU and despite not being a member, have become very close to NATO. All Finns understood the necessity of these horrible compromises given their history and place within the wider Cold War. People today who advocate historic Finnish-style neutrality as a quick fix for the Ukraine war would do well to understand that something as subtle or consensual is very unlikely to work today.