In the Winter War, little Finland managed to successfully defend itself against the seemingly vastly superior Soviet Union.
These parallels should give hope to Ukraine.
Helsinki/Cologne – In Finland, politics is above all security politics.
The country with five and a half million inhabitants is one of the most well-fortified countries in Europe.
There is a reason for this: Russia.
Finland shares a border that is more than 1,000 kilometers long with its huge neighboring country.
And the past shows that the Soviet Union, which fell 30 years ago, did not shy away from crossing this border.
This happened in the winter war of 1939/1940, when the Red Army invaded Finland because of alleged security concerns.
With a similar argument, Russia has been waging the Ukraine war since February 24.
“Finland has a long history of wars with Russia.
Over time, Russia attacked Finland, which was still part of Sweden until 1808/1809, at least once a century,” political scientist Minna Ålander from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs tells IPPEN.MEDIA
And even though the said Winter War ended in an armistice and Finland had to cede territories to the Soviet Union, "Finland managed to defend the most important thing: its sovereignty," Ålander tweeted on March 13 on the anniversary of the Winter War.
The Winter War that ended today in 1940 had many similarities to Russia's war in Ukraine.
Finland was supposed to be part of the Soviet deal in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union but luckily managed to fend off the attack & remain independent https://t.co/diaOoC4xs6
— Minna Ålander 🌻 (@minna_alander) March 13, 2023
Ukraine War: Comparison with Finland, which humiliated the then Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1939/1940
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, many comparisons have been circulating between Finland and Ukraine.
That makes sense, because in both cases it seems like a fight between David and Goliath.
Contrary to all expectations, Moscow did not succeed in taking the actually militarily inferior Ukraine within a few months.
Instead, the Ukraine war is evolving more and more into a war of attrition with little to no movement on the front lines.
For a possible way out, look to the history books.
The Finns inflicted a serious defeat on the Red Army in the Winter War - and prevented an occupation by the neighboring country.
"We Finns have it in our DNA that Russia can pose an imperialist threat," says Finnish MEP Petri Sarvamaa to the
So it's not surprising that Helsinki is pushing into NATO - if necessary without Sweden.
But how did little Finland manage to first beat back the all-powerful Soviet Union - and then hold it in check for another ten weeks until a ceasefire?
Elizabeth Braw, an expert on countering emerging threats to national security, analyzed just that
in a piece for the US magazine
Foreign Policy .
She says: "Red Army commanders assumed that Tolvajärvi would be a piece of cake, just as former Soviet leader Josef Stalin surmised that the entire invasion of Finland would be a piece of cake." Chief Vladimir Putin thought about Ukraine.
Both were wrong.
And so the strength of the Finnish army at that time in the fight against the Red Army resulted from the fact that Stalin was not prepared for such a resistance.
According to official figures, 70,000 Finns died in the Winter War, and the Soviet army's losses are estimated to be many times that number.
According to Brawn, the losses are said to be five times higher.
Finland's Defense Against the Soviet Union: Faith in Herself and Her Country
Reason for Finland's defensiveness: the Finns themselves - and the belief in themselves and their country.
In her analysis, Elizabeth Brawn quotes retired Major General Pekka Toveri, the former head of Finnish military intelligence: “The sacrifices made by the troops would not have been possible without the support of the home front.
The soldiers knew how much society valued them and they knew that they were fighting for the survival of the country.” In short, all the country's resources were used for defense.
"This was the birth of the Finnish policy of total defense, in which everyone has a role to play to protect the country," writes Brawn.
A unity that can also be observed in Ukraine.
Further parallels: the Finnish warfare, which relied on small, fast ground troops, benefited from the territorial conditions of their homeland and proceeded tactically.
"Small Finnish groups approached our troops on skis from behind and cut off our supply routes," Brawn quotes the description of a Soviet soldier.
"By mid-December our tanks were without fuel, the horses that pulled the artillery had no oats and the soldiers had no food." Numerous tanks were also said to have been destroyed by white-clad Finnish soldiers on skis with Molotov cocktails.
Similarly, the Ukrainian army uses targeted attacks and agile ground forces against Russia.
The Soviet Union, in turn, tried to roll over its enemy with the sheer mass of bodies, which means nothing other than that the soldiers served as cannon fodder.
Again a parallel to the Ukraine war, in which the often poorly trained and uncoordinated Russian personnel are wasted in droves.
But of course there is a crucial difference.
Finland was never part of the former Soviet Union, while Vladimir Putin sees history as legitimizing his annexation of Ukraine.
A quick end, as in the Winter War, is not in sight.
Because for Putin, a victory over Ukraine is a historic mission.