ukraine, finland, and russia

It has recently been revealed that Russian/separatist forces are taking more territory in the Ukraine. What to do? There are few good options. Russia is so massive compared to neighbors. But history does have one example of semi-successful defense from Russian/Soviet incursion – the Winter War of 1940, when Finland resisted (sort of) a Soviet invasion.

Organizationally, the issue is that the Finns were simply outnumbered and had to build a new strategy to deal with that fact. The solution was to (a) exploit the geography, (b) come up with innovative tactics, and (c) preserve your own while maximizing enemy casualties. For example, the Finnish air force developed the novel tactics where they would refuse to defend and focus on attack; novel mining techniques (Finns learned how to put mines in frozen lakes); hijacking radio frequencies and misdirecting Soviet planes; and exploiting the Finnish geography with well placed garrisons and snipers.

The legacy of the Finnish war is ambiguous. According to the wiki, they inflicted massive casualties on the Soviets, forcing a settlement. But still, the Finns suffered enormous losses. Helsinki was bombed. Almost a thousand civilians died, nearly 26,000 soldiers perished in a short three month war. The Finns also saw, as the Ukrainians do today, that there is limited help from the rest of the world.

The lesson is hard to extract. Finnland’s Winter War is the best outcome among many wars of aggression on the Russian border. Perhaps it would be better to do as the Georgians did and try to minimize the conflict. Regardless, the Ukraine is in for some very difficult times.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 5, 2014 at 12:01 am

2 Responses

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  1. As a descendant of Finnish immigrants, I’ve always taken especial interest in the Winter War (as well as the previous Finnish Civil War of 1918). I agree that innovation made the Finns punch above their weight militarily.

    Finland also had the advantage of a relatively cohesive national identity and strong historical narrative of Russian oppression. Ukraine, while trying to build both an identity and a narrative, struggles more than the Finns did. This feeds into the separatist ethos, even without Russian infiltration.



    September 5, 2014 at 1:13 am

  2. This Kiev government started a war against Eastern Ukraine before we started pretending it was legit in any way. It also happens to be incompetent. Many of the E.U./U.S. deals necessitate them being in control of Eastern Ukraine, but they can’t make it happen- so they keep blaming Russia and try to draw other nations into the conflict.

    A lesson would be, hey, let’s not make the great big neighbor on our border, who can get here faster than everybody else, angry. Let’s stop bombing our neighbors and try to figure out how to get along.



    September 5, 2014 at 2:32 pm

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