Invasion of Finland

Finland was united with Sweden from the early Middle Ages until 1809 when it became a grand duchy of Russia. At first the Romanov Dynasty respected Finland's autonomy but Alexander III pursued a policy of Russification of national minorities. This included imposing the Russian language and Russian schools on the German, Polish and Finnish peoples living in the Russian Empire.

After the 1905 Revolution in Russia Nicholas II gave permission for the Finns to elect a parliament chosen by universal suffrage of both sexes. A further period of repression after 1910 stimulated growth in Finnish nationalism and taking advantage of the breakdown of authority during the Russian Revolution, the Finns proclaimed their independence on 29th July 1917.

Russia lost all control over Finland after the new Bolshevik Government signed the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. In July 1919 Finland adopted a democratic and republican constitution. Over the next few years Finland was involved in border disputes with Sweden and with Russia. Fascist groups twice attempted coups in Finland during the 1930s but although these were both put down, the government agreed to pass anti-communist laws.

Primary Sources

(1) Manchester Guardian (30th November, 1939)

Though according to foreign reports the Red forces this morning launched their promised "help for the Finnish people" against their democratic Government - led by Socialists, the Kremlin's particular detestation - the Russian people remained ignorant until late tonight of the fact that their Government had involved them in actual warfare with their tiny neighbour.

Speculation on the soviet objectives in foreign quarters here turns on the question whether the campaign will be pursued after the seizure of the Karelian Ishmus, the islands in the Gulf of Finland, Hanko, and the northern most peninsulas, which were demanded in the negotiations, or then propose a peace, to be concluded with a new and more compliant Finnish Government.

Certain foreign quarters believe that the hostilities may serve as a justification for the seizure of the Finnish copper and nickel mines, both of which metals are solely needed in the Soviet Union. The production of Finnish copper is largely exported to Germany, which took 12,000 tons in 1938, but the nickel is controlled by a Canadian concession, and is exported only from Petsamo.

(2) Manchester Guardian (2nd August, 1944)

It is officially announced from Helsinki that President Ryti has resigned and that he has been succeeded by Marshal Mannerheim.

Mannerheim was appointed by decree and not elected, as is customary. Linkomies, the Premier, moved in Parliament that Marshal Mannerheim should be decreed as Finnish President. This decree also provided that what was called "a great burden of functions on the shoulder of the President" (Mannerheim is 77) should be transferred to the Premier.

A delegation from the "peace opposition" asked Mannerheim to assume leadership of the peace movement, according to a usually reliable Swedish source. They said that a move towards peace would faithfully represent the views of the majority of the country. The delegation reminded him that the recent pact with Germany was made on the personal initiative of Ryti, and that if he resigned it would not be incompatible with Finland's honour to denounce the pact.

Mannerheim held no office in the administration and thus had no responsibility for the treaty keeping Finland in the war which Ribbentrop negotiated with Ryti two months ago. The treaty was never submitted to Parliament.