Is Russia planning to repeat its Finnish Winter War strategy in the Ukraine?

Is Russia preparing to use the same strategy in the Ukraine that the Soviet Union used in the 1939-40 Winter War in Finland? A noted Israeli analyst believes so and that the first steps are already being taken.

Avraam Shmulyevich presents this theory in Tallinn’s Postimees newspaper. Citing the recent proclamation by Moscow’s agents in Ukraine of plans to establish the state of Malorossiya, he sees parallels with tactics against Finland in the Winter War.



Americans for Finland

When the Soviet Union attacked Finland in November 1939, one of its first actions was to set up a puppet regime across the Finnish border.  Stalin claimed that a communist uprising against ‘the Whites’ had occurred in Finland and set up a regime called ‘the Finnish Democratic Republic,’ headed by exiled Finnish communist Otto Kuusinen.  This republic, like Malorossiya, was based in Finnish territory seized by Soviet forces. In order to assist ‘our Finnish brothers,’ the Red Army launched an attack along the entire Finnish border from the Gulf of Finland to the Arctic Ocean on November 30.

The tactic was later used successfully after the war to set up puppet regimes in countries such as Czechoslovakia.

Now, “the Donets Army created by Moscow is again trying to liquidate the independence of Ukraine,” the Israeli analyst says. And “in exactly the same way.”  This is a grave concern because in all previous cases, “when Moscow applied this strategy, the West did not provide real military and even diplomatic help to the independent states which had become the victim of Russian aggression.”*

Since the strategy has been used so often and successfully by Russia/the U.S.S.R. in the past, it should be taken seriously now and is seen as a threat at least in some quarters in the Ukraine.

“Three Russian divisions were recently brought up to [Ukraine’s] borders,” and the question arises: “What could stop Putin from a full-scale attack?”  NATO “certainly does not want to intervene militarily. [And] even the answer to the question ‘Will NATO die for Narva?” up to now is not clear.” What is clear, Shmulyevich says, is that the Western alliance will not intervene on Ukraine’s behalf not least because Ukraine is not a member of NATO.  Moreover, its forces are much reduced from two decades ago, and the alliance would need “a minimum of 14 to 18 days” to introduce forces.  “By that time, Russian forces would reach the Dnipr.”*

Consequently, he continues, “even if NATO would like to intervene, it would not be able to stop the advance of the Russians.” It might introduce more sanctions but that won’t frighten the Kremlin. Since Kyiv is only about 300 kilometers from the Russian border, such a strike could allow Moscow to install a puppet regime there.

“Putin – and he has said this himself – has an idee fixe about the restoration of the borders of the USSR,” just as “his idol Stalin had a dream about the restoration of the borders of the Russian Empire of 1914.”*

And thus “Malorossiya” should “disturb not only Ukrainians but all the neighbors of the Russian Federation.”*

An article in the Moscow newspaper Vzglyad, Shmulyevich says, suggests what may be ahead and against which Ukrainians will have to fight with relatively few allies unless the scope of the danger is recognized in Western capitals and a more forceful policy is articulated and put in place.

In that article, ominously titled ‘Ukraine is Fated Again to Become Malorossiya,” the author says that “Russia is conducting a struggle for Ukraine not with the West … [but] with Kyiv. No one knows how much time it will take to transform Ukraine into Malorossiya – three years, five or even ten.  But it inevitably will become Malorossiya and then part of a single Great Russia”. * (

Shmulyevich notes “history warns that the essence of the Russian Empire hasn’t changed … Whether the proclamation of ‘Malorossiya’ will be the beginning of the realization of the tested old scenario of imperial expansion depends in the first instance on whether the states under threat … can mobilize and mobilize the support of the free world.”*

In the Winter War, the Finns fought and repulsed the Soviet attack, forcing a negotiated armistice. The legitimate Finnish government never fell or fled, and the puppet regime under Kuusinen was discredited even before the war ended. Stalin was forced to negotiate with the legitimate democratic government of the Finns. But his intentions at the outset were clear:  the invasion, occupation and sovietization of Finland, under the direction of the Kuusinen regime and later Moscow itself.

One of Finland’s primary goals during the Winter War was to obtain support and sympathy in the West.  Although western military aid would have arrived too late to influence the course of the war, it is probable that the promise of aid from the Allies swayed Stalin’s thinking in favour of signing an armistice. He did not wish to alienate the great powers.

Shmulyevich concludes the Ukrainians are likely to be forced to try to achieve the same outcome by seeking western support.


* Avraam Shmulyevich



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