Paasikivi in Moscow

J. K. Paasikivi and Aarno Yrjö-Koskinen returning from negotiations in Moscow. The Finnish Heritage Agency. Photographer: Pietinen Aarne, 1939.
J. K. Paasikivi and Aarno Yrjö-Koskinen returning from negotiations in Moscow. The Finnish Heritage Agency. Photographer: Pietinen Aarne, 1939.

“It is difficult to imagine Russia surrendering Finland to Sweden, when the two countries have fought for the dominion of Finland for centuries.” (Aleksandra Kollontai 1940)

When President Mauno Koivisto introduced his recently published book Venäjän idea [The Idea of Russia] in Moscow in June 2002, he took his audience by surprise by saying that as a president, he had never encountered any really serious problems. The audience, including Finnish listeners, did not immediately grasp what Koivisto was saying: that Finland’s existence was never under question during Koivisto’s term.

The situation was different in Paasikivi’s time. In December 1940, Paasikivi confided in Mauri Honkajuuri, who was his successor as CEO of Kansallis-Osake-Pankki, saying that the position of Finland’s envoy to Moscow was the most difficult job in Finland at the moment, including that of the President. “At stake is nothing less than avoiding a new war that would ultimately destroy us.” From Kremlin’s perspective, the Winter War was unfinished business, and now it would be concluded by other means. The goal for the Soviet Union was to continue to adhere to the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and this would also involve Finland.

Paasikivi’s formidable task

Paasikivi’s dealings with Moscow began in October 1939 with negotiations in the Kremlin and ended with the only visit that he, in his own words, returned from with any sense of satisfaction. In September 1955, the Soviet Union announced that it would return the naval base of Porkkala before the end of the lease. In exchange for this concession, President Paasikivi agreed to the Soviet demand to extend the Friendship Treaty signed in 1948 by another twenty years.

Paasikivi’s delegation attended seven meetings in Moscow in the autumn of 1939. Stalin presided six of these meetings, which according to Stephen Kotkin, Stalin’s biographer, was unprecedented. The same observation is made by the former KGB resident Viktor Vladimirov in his book Kohti talvisotaa [Towards the Winter War]. According to Paasikivis’ biographer Tuomo Polvinen, the negotiations were graced by the presence of “a supreme intellect”, that is Stalin, whose aim was to get results. Paasikivi said he had been pleasantly surprised by Stalin, who had conducted himself amicably.

When Prime Minister Ryti had headed the peace negotiations in Moscow in March 1940 and had presented his opening statement in Russian, Stalin did not appear. Stalin also refrained from participating in the preliminary peace talks in Moscow in April 1944, to which Paasikivi flew via Stockholm. Nor was Stalin present, when the Moscow Armistice was concluded in September 1944. In 1948, Stalin invited Paasikivi to Moscow, but he declined citing his old age, 77 years, and the “restlessness of moods that the trip would cause”. He knew what Stalin wanted and he was not prepared to enter into a “friendship treaty”, as Romania and Hungary had done, as these were military in nature.

Except for the negotiations in the autumn of 1939, the Finnish delegates met with foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, who publicly pressured Finland. Therefore, for Finns, Molotov became the enemy personified. War-time censorship prevented any derogatory treatment of Stalin in propaganda.

As an envoy, Paasikivi met Stalin only shortly before leaving Moscow in May 1941. This would be their last encounter. Stalin’s comment to Paasikivi, to whom he had promised 20,000 tonnes of cereal after a half-an-hour meeting, was sharp: “They [in Helsinki] are not satisfied with you” (Oni ne dovol’ny vami). In 1953, Paasikivi sent Prime Minister Kekkonen to Stalin’s funeral.

Paasikivi met foreign minister Molotov for the last time at the beginning of a state visit in October 1955, before Molotov hurried onwards to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Molotov had opposed Nikita Khrushchev’s new “thaw” politics, such as the returning of Porkkala. In the 1991 book ‘Molotov Remembers’, he laconically says, “we probably wouldn’t have done it”. The reference to Stalin is obvious. Molotov also said that they failed in their attempts to “democratise” Finland, as well as Austria.

Paasikivi had already passed away when Khrushchev added insult to injury and decided to post Molotov, who had lost in the power struggle in 1957 and had consequently been sent off to Ulan-Bator, as the Soviet ambassador to Helsinki. As historian Kimmo Rentola has observed, this would have been a serious miscalculation. As if sensing this, the foreign ministry suggested that they should first unofficially consult “President Kekkonen and our Finnish friends via the channels available to the Committee for State Security [KGB]”. No doubt, Molotov would have been welcomed with quite a cocktail party.

According to Vilhelm Assarsson, the Swedish ambassador to Moscow, Paasikivi was the first outgoing envoy that Stalin met in person. Stalin received the British ambassador for the first time in July 1941 and the US ambassador in 1941. Germany’s Reichsbotschafter Count Schulenburg won an audience with Stalin together with foreign minister von Ribbentrop in August 1939. According to Assarsson, Paasikivi was considered persona gratissima in Kremlin. The Soviet ambassador to Stockholm, Alexandra Kollontai, often described Paasikivi as “wise and openminded”. She said that Stalin held Paasikivi in great regard, seeing him as a person with whom debating was always interesting. Molotov and Kollontai had taken note of Stalin’s impression of Finland’s chief negotiator and acted accordingly. After the Winter War, Stalin would no longer appear, and Paasikivi had to content himself with Molotov, who was carrying out orders.

Paasikivi’s negotiating partners

Paasikivi’s counterpart in Moscow was Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet minister for foreign affairs, with whom Paasikivi sat through several difficult talks. Molotov had the reputation of being a “terrible negotiator” (un négociateur terrible), but according to Paasikivi, he was “polite and friendly man to man”, and even the toughest of debates ended with a “defusing jest”. However, his deputy Andrey Vyshinsky, the state prosecutor in the Moscow show trials, and who sovietised Latvia and was later a prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials, Paasikivi described as a “fanatic and an unpleasant man”.

Paasikivi’s negotiating partners in Moscow also included Vladimir Dekanozov, Molotov’s Georgian second deputy, who sovjetised Lithuania and was appointed the Soviet ambassador in Berlin in November 1940. Paasikivi met with Dekanozov again in spring 1944 in Moscow, when he was again acting as Molotov’s deputy. Dekanozov was executed in December 1953 together with his former superior Lavrentiy Beria. The worst of Finland’s enemies, according to Paasikivi, was Andrei Zhdanov, the party leader of Leningrad, the person who sovetised Estonia and, later, the head of the Allied Control Commission in Finland. However, this diary entry Paasikivi did not include in his memoirs, Tuomo Polvinen notes.

Paasikivi’s work was also greatly impeded by Ivan Zotov, the Soviet envoy to Helsinki, who had been transferred to his post from Riga. None of the Soviet negotiators acted alone, however, and Zotov’s actions were watched by the resident of the NKVD security service , who in December 1940 reported to the Kremlin that Zotov was a “clumsy negotiator and often an embarrassment” and that “the Finns think nothing of him”. Zotov was replaced by Pavel Orlov in April. In a similar manner in 1979, the resident KGB representative orchestrated the transfer of the Soviet ambassador in Helsinki, Vladimir Stepanov, to Petrozavodsk.

Paasikivi and Mannerheim

Paasikivi was not, any more than Mannerheim was, the uncontroversial character that the following generations have since painted him as. Paasikivi variously had the reputation of being a difficult person, someone who was ready to compromise and to conform, as well as a monarchist, the prime minister of the ill-fated pro-German government of 1918 and a negotiator for the “shameful” Peace Treaty of Tartu. His persona evoked criticism. He was described as “stubborn and cantankerous and did not know how to sweet-talk the Russians”. Fully aware of this, Paasikivi wanted to bring in Väinö Tanner for the autumn 1939 negotiations to share the responsibility, as Tanner had also been involved in the Tartu process in 1920.

Mannerheim’s character also prompted similar reservations. At the age of 72, he was considered too old to lead the military. His rift with foreign minister Eljas Erkko and serious conflict with Prime Minster A.K. Cajander almost led him to resign in November 1939. According to Mannerheim, the government did not have the army that its foreign policy required, as Finland had always relied on the assumption that, should war break out, Russia’s hands would be tied elsewhere. The situation was now very different, however. Mannerheim was particularly exasperated by Eljas Erkko’s public appearances. Communication between Paasikivi and Erkko also broke down. Paasikivi blamed Erkko for Finland being pulled into the war and talked about “Erkko’s war”. Paasikivi’s anger towards Erkko persisted and he called Erkko by various epithets, such as riksfördärvaren (‘the State Destroyer’).

Väinö Voionmaa, who had joined Paasikivi in Moscow in 1940 for the post-negotiations on the peace treaty, recorded many of Paasikivi’s scathing statements. Paasikivi placed the blame for the “enormous losses” suffered in the Winter War on the men and activists engaging in passive resistance during the years of Russian oppression, who had ignited an “inflated spirit of independence” and founded the country’s future on the concept of “rights” without giving any thought to the might of the great powers that prevailed over such rights. For Paasikivi, the line of the more conservative Fennomans represented realpolitik. In Paasikivi’s words, “one should not be an activist in timeless times”, when the time is not right.

In the gloomy spirits after a lost war and the fraught atmosphere of the Moscow talks, Paasikivi and Voionmaa even speculated whether Estonia, after all, had chosen the right path. Where the path chosen by Estonia eventually led, became clear in summer 1940, when the Red Army occupied the country. Judging by the success of Germany’s war effort, Paasikivi believed in summer 1940 that Britain would agree to peace. “It is of vital importance to us that the great war is brought to an end, and we hope that Germany may swiftly and utterly crush England.” Paasikivi was angered by the views of Britain’s ambassador in Moscow, Sir Stafford Cripps. The left-wing Labour politician had expressed his support to Kuusinen’s “People’s Government” in December 1939 and asked Paasikivi: “Wouldn’t Finns really wish to be part of the Soviet Union? How would the communists vote?” Paasikivi replied with a question: “Would the British communists vote in favour of being annexed to Germany?”

Mannerheim and Paasikivi held similar views, which had brought them closer since the 1930s. Mannerheim took credit for the Nordic alignment “den svenska orienteringen”, which Kivimäki’s government adopted as Finland’s foreign policy in 1935. Posting Paasikivi to Stockholm was probably Mannerheim’s idea, but in practice the appointment was finalised by the core members of Paasikivi’s “foreign policy club”, Kivimäki and foreign minister Antti Hackzell. Mannerheim and Paasikivi were also in agreement that the language quarrel was detrimental to Finland’s relations with Sweden. Mannerheim’s description of Paasikivi was reserved but complementary: “Paasikivi is a talented, skilful and interesting man, although he cannot express himself in any language.” They continued to collaborate closely, and their mutual respect also grew after the war. Tuomo Polvinen states that although Mannerheim, then President, took issue with a newspaper interview Paasikivi had given in August 1944 and removed Paasikivi from the Moscow peace delegation in September 1944, they reconciled later in the same autumn, as experience had shown that “it was impossible to succeed in the changed circumstances without the services of [Paasikivi]”.

Moscow and the Interim Peace

What awaited Paasikivi in Moscow, when he returned to the city no more than a week after the signing of the Moscow Peace Treaty in March 1940? On arrival at the empty embassy building, the delegation met with what was described as “the destruction of Jerusalem”. The building could be moved in only in late April. The new embassy building, designed by architect Hilding Eklund, had been inaugurated only eighteen months earlier.

Paasikivi, assisted by Voionmaa, was tasked with negotiating on the implementation of the peace treaty and to resolve the famous confusion around the border arrangements near the industrial area of Enso. In stern correspondence with Helsinki, Paasikivi told the government: “If you do not trust my judgment as the one on the frontline, it is best you send over someone else.”

The evacuation of the Karelian population from the ceded territories took the Kremlin by surprise. Paasikivi wrote in his diary, that “Stalin was infuriated to learn that the population in the ceded territories had been moved away. He had been given the impression that the people had been forced to leave.” Finland’s envoy in Stockholm, G.A. Gripenberg, made a record of Molotov’s comment upon arriving in deserted Vyborg (Viipuri) in March 1940, which he later heard from the Swedes. “Do they really think we are barbarians,” Molotov had wondered.

Molotov did not give an inch. As a result of the uncertainty around the boundary arrangements, Europe’s most modern centre of the forest industry was left behind the Soviet border. Lost were a sulphite pulp, paper and board mill and a chlorine factory. The board production in Enso alone accounted for one half of the entire board production in the Soviet Union in 1939. The Rouhiala hydropower plant had the third biggest capacity in the Soviet Union. In other words, however the border was drawn was economically highly significant for the Soviet Union, although this was not the original cause of the war.

The constantly growing demands made by the Soviet Union were the bane of Paasikivi’s term as envoy in Moscow. As he retorted in his first letter to foreign minister Rolf Witting: “I am back here in hell and life is no fun.” At another time, he disclosed that “one lives under constant pressure here, as one never knows what will happen next and what lies ahead.” In the course of the summer and autumn of 1940, Paasikivi wrote that “in his lonely position” he was taken over by “a sense of insecurity and fear and uncertainty about the future”, as Tuomo Polvinen reports.

Paasikivi spoke Russian throughout the negotiations, although he was aware that his Russian had deteriorated. He held a master’s degree in Russian language, literature and history and he had lived in Novgorod for six months before the revolution to improve his Russian. Conscious of his limitations, Paasikivi carefully prepared for the talks by writing down, if possible, the most important and complicated phrases he was going to use. Prior to the negotiations of autumn 1939, Mannerheim had voiced his concern about the language skills of the delegation. According to Voionmaa, Paasikivi’s Russian skills were at least passable, and he was prepared to use them.

In Finland, Paasikivi has been criticised for being too all-embracing, but as Voionmaa knew, this would be an asset in Russia, where verbosity was the norm. As Lennart Meri once said, Russia is a great language for “chatting” (boltat). Unlike in France, Russians appreciate any effort to speak their language, even if imperfectly. In ‘Molotov Remembers’, Molotov described Paasikivi’s Russian skills: “He spoke Russian of sorts, enough for us to understand.” (Po-russki govoril koye-kak, no ponyat’ mozhno.)

Kremlin’s objectives

Moscow proved a living hell for the Finnish negotiators in 1940–1941, as the Soviet counterparts would not settle for victory in the Winter War and demanded more.

Talks with Hitler in Berlin in 1940 indicated that the Soviet Union was aiming to annihilate Finland. As Molotov said to Hitler, the Soviet Union saw it as its duty to come up with the final solution for Finland. The 1939 agreement on spheres of influence had been achieved, except in the case of Finland. Hitler was evasive and stressed that there should be no war against Finland, as the conflict might have some far-reaching consequences. Molotov interpreted this as a “new item” that had not been included in the previous year’s pact.

As historian Pekka Visuri points out, the Germans were selective in the information that they passed on to Finland about the talks and they used various channels of communication. By November 1940, Germany had yet to admit that a Secret Protocol or an agreement of the spheres of influence existed. However, the discussions between Molotov and Hitler proved a watershed moment.

In his letter to foreign minister Rolf Witting in January, Paasikivi had still been commenting on how difficult it was to pin down what the objectives of the Soviet Union really were. The main possibilities were the destruction of Finland as had been the case with the Baltic countries or honouring the Moscow Peace Treaty. Information about the demands Molotov had made in Berlin did not reach Paasikivi until in June 1941, when President Ryti disclosed the content of the talks to him. Shocked, Paasikivi had said “if this is true, it indeed shows that the masters of the Soviet Union cannot be trusted whatsoever”.

The Soviet Union occupied the Baltic countries in June 1940 and incorporated them as Soviet republics into the USSR. Estonia’s request to the Supreme Soviet to join the USSR was seconded by O.V. Kuusinen, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Karelo-Finnish SSR. It later transpired that, on 30 June 1940, Molotov had intimated to the foreign minister of Lithuania that “You must be realistic enough to understand that the fate of the small nations is to disappear. Your Lithuania, together with the rest of the Baltic nations, as well as Finland, will become part of the glorious family of Soviet nations.”

Kremlin kept the pressure on. Land access to the leased territory around Hanko was an example of the demands that exceeded the provisions of the peace treaty but to which Finland was forced to agree. The Soviet Union also had plans to substantially extend the Hanko naval base.

The most serious attempt to interfere with the internal politics of Finland were the large demonstrations instigated by the Finland–Soviet Union Peace and Friendship Society, which was established in May 1940 by communists who had been released from detention or had resurfaced from hiding after the Winter War. The operation orchestrated by the NKVD was doomed to fail. The society’s activities dwindled during the autumn until its ban at the end of 1940. Consequently, Molotov made stern accusations against the Finnish government and demanded Tanner’s resignation. Kollontai’s diary entry of October 1939 details Molotov’s outburst regarding Tanner: “Our peaceful agreement is being undermined by that dangerous social democrat Tanner”. The Kremlin raised the ante and Paasikivi was to feel the consequences.

In the Moscow Peace Treaty, the Soviet Union settled for the mere redrawing of the border on the Rybachy peninsula (Kalastajasaarento) in Pechenga (Petsamo). This appeased Norway in the same way that the Soviet Union’s stance on the Åland Islands pacified Sweden. In autumn 1944, the situation was very different. The Red Army had proceeded to Pechenga (Petsamo) and liberated Eastern Finnmark from the German occupation in October 1944. The Red Army withdrew from Eastern Finnmark in September 1945. In the negotiations with the Norwegian government-in-exile in November 1944, Molotov demanded that the Bear Island (Bjørnøya) be ceded to the Soviet Union and that Svalbard be placed under joint rule of Norway and the Soviet Union.

Settling the question of control over the Pechanga nickel mine was one of the biggest challenges for Paasikivi during his time in Moscow and, eventually, the cause of his resignation. Having access to nickel was crucial for the German war economy, but regardless of the nonaggression treaty, both Moscow and Berlin defended their interests in Pechanga. The Kremlin put pressure on Finland to accept an arrangement in which the Soviet Union would hold the majority control of the mine. Finland refused this demand, and throughout the spring of 1941, Germany backed Finland.

Paasikivi, however, was kept in the dark of the development in Finnish-German relations. In his telegram to the foreign ministry in February 1941, Paasikivi voiced his scepticism: “Only if sufficient foreign military aid to cover all eventualities is provisionally secured, of which I am unfortunately not informed, will I be able to consider your policy.” This turn of events was partly behind Paasikivi’s decision to submit his resignation as the Moscow envoy. To placate Paasikivi, Ryti informed him at the end of April of the discussions between General Erik Heinrichs and Wehrmacht chief of staff General Franz Halder, which had taken place in Berlin in January 1941. As Polvinen concludes, Paasikivi could now safely assume that the German assistance he had hoped for would be a much more realistic than anticipated.

The Åland Islands as a pawn

Paasikivi’s famous piece of instruction to the government to “refrain from overly focusing on legalities because the Kremlin is not a district court of law”, was to do with the question of the Åland Islands. The Soviet Union, which was not a signatory of the 1921 Convention Respecting the Non-Fortification and Neutralisation of the Aaland Islands, forced Finland into a bilateral agreement in October 1940. After the Winter War, Finland had continued building fortifications on Åland, and the Soviet Union was demanding their demolition. Under the Convention, Finland agreed to demilitarise and not to fortify Åland and not to permit any military, naval or air force of any power to enter or remain on the islands. The Convention gave the Soviet Union the right to post a consular representative on Åland to oversee compliance with the agreement on the demilitarisation and non-fortification.

Before the Winter War, the military cooperation discussed between Finland and Sweden focused on the joint defence of Åland. Such plans were thwarted by the opposition of Moscow. Instead, Åland became a pawn that was passed from one party to the next at different times to serve variable purposes. In Max Jakobson’s words “The documents regarding the Åland Islands question could be made into a monument to warn us against the illusion that we could ever know what the future brings.”

Molotov reminded the Swedes in November 1939 that Swedes should bear in mind that Finland and Åland once belonged to Russia. For a great power, this was a matter of prestige. In another context, Molotov emphasised the necessity of breaking away from “state of submission” into which Russia had been coerced because of the unfortunate defeat in the Crimean War. He was referring to the provisions of the 1856 Treaty of Paris and the non-fortification convention for the Åland Islands. After the Winter War broke out in December 1939, Paasikivi considered handing Åland back to the former mother country, provided that Sweden would support Finland and enter into a long-term defence alliance or entente cordiale. Towards the end of the Winter War, Moscow assured Sweden that it would no longer bomb Åland. Playing the game of divide and rule between Stockholm and Helsinki, Molotov offered Åland to Sweden and encouraged Sweden to make demands regarding the issue.

Similar deliberations were repeated in summer 1944. G.A. Gripenberg, Finland’s envoy in Stockholm, noted in his diary in August 1944 that Finland might be prepared to let go of Åland to save Hanko and other territories in Southern Finland. The rumours spread by the Soviet Union of exchanging Porkkala for Åland irritated prime minister Per Albin Hansson, particularly as the Swedish government had not been informed of such plans. According to Gripenberg, Hansson was, once again, left disappointed with Finland’s “untrustworthiness and lack of will to engage in genuine cooperation with the government of Sweden”.

Den svenska orienteringen – the Swedish orientation

The possibility of Sweden’s military assistance permeated the reasoning of Paasikivi and the Finnish government before and during the Winter War through the Interim Peace up until the Continuation War. This was the goal of Mannerheim’s “Swedish orientation”, svenska orienteringen, even if the term ‘defence alliance’ was too controversial to be uttered in the 1930s. Richard Sandler, Sweden’s foreign minister who had been forced to resign after the Winter War had broken out, had led not only the Finnish but also his own government astray, but not the Soviet Union, who had realised that Sandler’s policy towards Sweden’s eastern neighbours was without foundation.

At the end of December 1939, Paasikivi wrote to Foreign Minister Tanner that were Sweden to take the bold decision to stand by Finland with all its military might, and were the Kremlin made aware of this, the Soviet Union would leave Finland alone. This did not happen. Instead, Sweden declared itself a “non-belligerent country”, rather than neutral, and offered Finland material support and military aid and allowed volunteers to participate in military campaigns particularly in Northern Finland.

The idea of a military alliance between Finland and Sweden raised in the wake of the Winter War, was swiftly shot down by Moscow. Molotov argued it was categorically against the provisions of the Moscow Peace Treaty. Tensions rose towards the end of the summer due to the demonstrations organised by the Finland–Soviet Union Peace and Friendship Society and the increasing cases of espionage. The concentration of Red Army troops near the border made Finland prepare for a new assault. Known as the “August Crisis”, the period gave new rise to the debate on military cooperation between Finland and Sweden. Germany had occupied Denmark and Norway in April and, soon after, had crushed France in a matter of weeks. The Battle of Britain was raging but would end in Germany’s defeat. In September, the transfer of German troops through Finland to Norway began. However, the transport of German soldiers on leave and wounded soldiers (permittenttrafiken) through Sweden had already commenced in June.

In Sweden, the initiative for military cooperation emerged in the traditionalist military circles, who formed a network known as Decemviri. Prime minister Per Albin Hansson also had an opinion on the matter, which reflected the wider concerns of the Swedes for the situation in the Nordics and for Finland’s policy. Hansson spoke to Henrik Ramsay and Väinö Hakkila in September 1940 about the necessity of a “federation” of three Nordic countries. In the same conjunction, Hansson also emphasised the need to curb the adventurous foreign policies of “a certain country”.

The occupation of Norway made Sweden see that the threat of Germany was real. Yet it was in Sweden’s interest also to prevent the reignition of hostilities in Finland. The Swedish press also speculated on the possibility of a new influx of refugees. It was felt that “all Swedish-speaking and probably also the educated Finnish-speaking people” should be saved from the Red Army attack.

From Sweden’s perspective, the question of a union or coordinated foreign policies between the countries hinged on Finland agreeing to refrain from revanche, that is, not to attempt to reannex the lost areas of Karelia to Finland. According to Foreign Minister Christian Günther, Sweden could not give military guarantees to Finland unless it was given free hands to monitor Finland’s foreign policy. Kollontai, who had recently returned from Moscow, emphasised to Günther in October 1940 that “The Soviet Union would honour Sweden’s independence under all circumstances. However, it is difficult to imagine Russia surrendering Finland to Sweden, when the two countries have fought for the dominion of Finland for centuries.” Günther responded by arguing that it should be in the Soviet Union’s best interest to have Sweden dominate the Finnish foreign policy rather than “some other” country.

Two different views of the enemy

Finland and Sweden perceived the threat differently. Following the occupation of Norway, the situation seemed quite different, depending on whether seen from Stockholm or Helsinki. Despite the adage Finlands sak är vår – Finland’s cause is ours – and the shock of the Winter War, the proposition of supporting Finland’s defence was unpopular, particularly within the Social Democratic Party. Ernst Wigforss, the influential minister of finance, took a negative view on supporting Finland if war broke out. Sweden had never shed the memory of the atrocities that took place in the aftermath of the Finnish Civil War. As Max Jacobson has phrased it, “the Ehrensvärds (nobility) had lost power to the Erlanders (commoners)”.

Another issue that alienated Sweden against Finland was the language issue. When discussing the language question taking place in the University of Helsinki with prime minister Hansson, Paasikivi took note of how well-informed Hansson was about the matter. However, Hansson downplayed the dispute, saying that it appeared to be difficult for Swedes to grasp that there were Finnish-speakers in Finland. He regarded the language issue as a luxury that only the upper classes could afford. The question was not as simple as that. The resettlement of Karelian refugees in Swedish-speaking municipalities attracted a great deal of attention in Sweden. Paasikivi stated that fuelling the language dispute was completely irresponsible, and Mannerheim agreed.

In autumn 1940, Sweden was prepared to go as far as to establish a state or personal union to prevent a new war in Finland, but both Berlin and Moscow opposed the idea. Reichsmarschall Göring conveyed Hitler’s view through General Paavo Talvela in December 1940: “If Finland enters into a personal union with Sweden, all German interest in Finland will cease.” The union would make Finland again a province of Sweden. Moscow turned a deaf ear to any attempts of the Swedish government to convince them that Sweden would keep at bay the ideas a revanche Finland might be harbouring.

Eventually in January 1941, Paasikivi told Assarsson that the plans for Finnish-Swedish cooperation were no longer relevant. According to Paasikivi, Germany’s victory was the only thing that could save Europe from a “Bolshevist catastrophe”. It would also determine Finland’s fate. As late as November, Paasikivi had said in his letter to Ryti that “It is a matter of life and death for us to be part of the Nordic bloc, nothing against Russia, I know the country. But if we remain within the sphere of influence of this power it will spell our demise.” Later in the spring, he noted: “Regardless of what one thinks of the current regime in Germany, it will be a thousand times better for us than to be part of the Soviet Union, as it would spell our demise.” In the winter of 1944, Paasikivi wrote in his diary that an occupation would bring “peace either in the graveyard or in Siberia”.

Just in time

Granting Paasikivi an audience with Stalin in the holy of the holies in the Kremlin was part of a belated campaign to stop Finland from slipping into Germany’s sphere of influence. Replacing the deeply unpopular ambassador in Helsinki and the announcement that the Soviet Union no longer opposed closer relations between Finland and Sweden were part of the same charm offensive. When Paasikivi’s plane from Stockholm landed in Helsinki on 10 June 1941, General Talvela, who happened to be at the airport, said: “You got out of Moscow just in time.” A week later, Paasikivi wrote in his diary: “Everyone agrees that I got out of Moscow not a moment too soon.”

In Krister Wahlbäck’s words:

“The Soviet Union paid a high price for Vyborg and the other territories that Stalin gained in exchange for peace after the Winter War. The effects of warfare stretched from 9 April 1940 until 4 April 1949, when the North Atlantic Treaty was signed by Norway and Denmark and the United States took responsibility for the defence of the two western Nordic countries.”

René Nyberg is Finland’s former ambassador to Moscow and Berlin.


1. Vilhelm Assarsson: I skuggan av Stalin. Söderström, 1963.

2. Felix Chuev: Molotov Remembers. Inside Kremlin Politics. Ivan R. Dee, 1993.

3. Max Jakobson: Paasikivi Tukholmassa, J.K. Paasikiven toiminta Suomen lähettiläänä Tukholmassa 1936–39.
Otava, 1978.

4. Stephen Kotkin: Waiting for Hitler, 1920−1941. Penguin Press, 2017.

5. Ohto Manninen: Toteutumaton valtioliitto. Suomi ja Ruotsi talvisodan jälkeen. Kirjayhtymä, 1977.

6. Johan Nykopp: Paasikiven mukana Moskovassa. Kirjayhtymä, 1975.

7. J. K. Paasikivi: Toimintani Moskovassa ja Suomessa 1939–41. WSOY, 1958.

8. J.K. Paasikivi: Jatkosodan päiväkirjat 11.3.1941 – 27.6.1944. WSOY, 1991.

9. Tuomo Polvinen: J.K. Paasikivi. Valtiomiehen elämäntyö 3, 1939–1944. WSOY, 1995.

10. Kimmo Rentola: Stalin ja Suomen kohtalo. Otava, 2016.

11. Timo Vihavainen, Ohto Manninen, Kimmo Rentola, Sergei Žuraljov: Varjo Suomen yllä: Stalinin salaiset kansiot. Docendo, 2017.

12. Timo Vihavainen: Neuvostoliiton varjossa kasvanut kansa. Minerva, 2019.

13. Pekka Visuri, Eino Murtorinne: Hitlerin ja Stalinin kaupankäynti Suomesta 1939–1940. Kiista Suomen asemasta Saksan ja Neuvostoliiton vaikutuspiirissä. Docendo, 2019.

14. Viktor Vladimirov: Kohti talvisotaa. Otava, 1995.

Translation: AAC Global 2020