Shmulyevich: Putin to reprise Stalin’s Winter War in Finland strategy against Ukraine

Soviet troops enter defeated Viipuri, Finland, ceded to the USSR as a result of Stalin's aggressive Winter War. The city now is called Vyborg. The Winter War, 1940

Soviet troops enter defeated Viipuri, Finland, ceded to the USSR as a result of Stalin's aggressive Winter War. The city now is called Vyborg. The Winter War, 1940 

Analysis & Opinion, Russia, War in the Donbas

One of the most important features of Moscow’s behavior but one that at the same time Western leaders typically fail to recognize and incorporate in their responses is that the Kremlin employs regularly employs the same strategy and tactics again and again albeit in new times and in new locations.

Indeed, it all too often seems to be the case that Russia’s relationship with the West is best captured by what was said of the Bourbons two centuries ago: the Russians have never forgotten anything that they have done before and the West has never learned anything from that all too obvious and heinous historical record.

That makes analyses which draw a parallel between what the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union did in the past with what Putin is doing now especially valuable because if the West recognizes the first steps of what is likely Moscow’s strategy, it will be in a far better position to counter it.

Avraam Shmulyevich, an Israeli analyst, provides just such an important insight in Tallinn’s Postimees newspaper, in which he suggests that the recent proclamation by Moscow’s agents in Ukraine of plans to create the state of Malorossiya has some disturbing parallels with Soviet actions against Finland in the Winter War of 1940.

This is something that at least some Ukrainian officials understand, Shmulyevich says, because they recognize that “Russia has frequently used such a scheme in the past,” most prominently in the case of the Winter War. Now, he and they think, there is a strong possibility of another “Winter War” action but this time against Ukraine and in the summer.

In 1940, “Stalin declared that a communist uprising against ‘the Whites’ had occurred.” It then announced “the formation of ‘the Finnish Democratic Republic,’ headed by Finnish communist Otto Kukusinen.” This republic, like Malorossiya, was “proclaimed on Finnish territories occupied by Soviet forces.

Vyacheslav Molotov signing a deal between the USSR and so-called “Finnish Democratic Republic”

“The USSR recognized it and to assist ‘the Finnish brothers,’ the Red Army launched an attack along the entire front from the Gulf of Finland to the Barents Sea,” Shmulyevich reminds. Earlier, during the Russian Civil War, Moscow used a similar tactic against Ukraine and Georgia, ultimately incorporating them into the Soviet Union.

Now, “the Donetsk Army created by Moscow is again trying to liquidate the independence of Ukraine,” the Israeli analyst says. And “in exactly the same way.” And that must be a matter of 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.”

A building burning after a Soviet air bombing raid in Vaasa, Finland. The Winter War, 1939

A building burning after a Soviet air bombing raid in Vaasa, Finland. The Winter War, 1939

“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 countries “certainly do not want to intervene militarily. [And] even the answer to the question ‘Will NATO die for Narva?” up to now is not clear.”

But 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 Dnipro.”

A defeated Soviet tank T-26 in Finland. The Winter War, 1940

A defeated Soviet tank T-26 in Finland. The Winter War, 1940

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 or stop the Russian advance. Given that Kyiv is only about 300 kilometers from the Russian border, such a strike could allow Moscow to install a comprador regime there.

“Putin – and he has said this himself – has an idée 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.”

Finnish President Kyosti Kallio next to an anti-aircraft gun ITKK 31 VKT. The Winter War, 1939

Finnish President Kyosti Kallio next to an anti-aircraft gun ITKK 31 VKT. The Winter War, 1939

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.”

Abandoned equipment and corpses of the Soviet 44th Infantry Division destroyed by the Finns near Suomussalmi, Finland. The Winter War, January 1940

Abandoned equipment and corpses of the Soviet 44th Infantry Division destroyed by the Finns near Suomussalmi, Finland. The Winter War, January 1940

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 first Winter War, the Finns supported by volunteers from Estonia and other countries fought the Soviet Union to a draw; in the second, Shmulyevich concludes, whose first “shots” have already been fired, the Ukrainians are likely to be forced to try to achieve the same outcome in the same way.

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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Eolone

    Russia would need, what? a 2 million man army to keep the Ukrainian people in line?

    • Screwdriver

      Ukrainian army will switch sides if Russia invades, like it happened in Crimea…(including the supreme commander of Ukrainian Navy.)

      • MichaelA

        russia already did invade and ukrainian army didnt switch sides
        they stopped the russians because russians dont have courage
        you know this
        only a few traitors among senior officers switched sides in crimea
        not in donbass and never again
        so keep wishing and crying

        • Screwdriver

          Few traitors ? :-)
          Even according to Ukrainian sources (as of November 2014 ) at least 6000 former Ukrainian military already received Russian citizenship . http://dumskaya.net/news/voennyj-prokuror-odesskogo-garnizona-otkryl-ugol-040873/

          • Dagwood Bumstead

            And these traitors will be hanged when they are caught.

          • Screwdriver

            “And these traitors will be hanged when they are caught”
            So Kiev regime rejecting European values, by doing capital punishment ? 6000+ people will be sentenced and killed, in a middle of Europe, ….really ? Are you insane ?

          • Dagwood Bumstead

            Britain hanged William Joyce, better known as “Lord Haw-Haw”, for his treason post WW2. Norway executed Vidkun Quisling and other traitors; France executed Pierre Laval and Co. The Netherlands had officially abolished the death penalty in about 1870 but despite this had no qualms about resurrecting it and executing Anton Mussert and many others who were guilty of treason. Belgium also executed leading traitors and condemned several others to death in absentia including Léon Degrelle.
            So if the Ukrainians decide to execute traitors they can always point to the way western European countries dealt with traitors post WW2. Treason in wartime gets the death penalty, end of discussion.

          • Screwdriver

            Any Western Democracy ever mass executed thousands of people post WW2 ?

          • Dagwood Bumstead

            All those I mentioned above were executed after V-J Day, most in 1946 or after. The Netherlands, UK and US each also executed several hundred Japanese war criminals throughout SE Asia after WW2. And there was also a large number of executions of German war criminals in Europe- apart from the chief criminals at the first Nürberg trial there were other trials which resulted in quite a few death sentences and executions- the Dachau trial, the doctors trial, the Einsatzgruppen trial etc etc plus smaller trials throughout western Europe. The Dutch were still executing war criminals and traitors in 1952, well after WW2 had ended.

          • Screwdriver

            Did any of those countries you mentioned mass executed “traitors” where treason is THE ONLY reason for execution?

          • MichaelA

            which we are not talking about so why are you making up stories?

          • MichaelA

            now you are trying to change the subject
            only a few traitors among senior officers switched sides in crimea
            the fact that ukrainians living in russia are forced to accept russian citizenship is irrelevant

      • veth

        Russian Army invaded 3 years ago Donbass, starting to kill Russian speaking Ukrainians, destroyed everything.

        • MichaelA

          yes russian army is very good at killing civilians

      • Eolone

        Why would the Ukrainian military switch side? Would the Ukrainian soldiers care to be transferred to outposts in Siberia?

  • zorbatheturk

    Finnish sniper Simo Hayha, nicknamed the White Death, shot dead over 500 RuSSian invaders during the Winter War when Stalin with Hitler’s blessing decided to invade Finland and impose Soviet hegemony on the Finns.

    RuSSian losses massively outnumbered the brave Finnish defenders.

    Do not let the Putinator advance into Ukraine.

  • Screwdriver

    Bad comparison. Suomi people did not have any bond with Soviet Union, only few communists. Thats it!
    Donbass is different, it was never Ukrainian. Mostly Russians, speak Russian, raised on Russian culture. Some Jews, some other nationals, nobody was crazy about vyshivankas.
    Finns did not speak Russian, did not read Russian books, different religion, everything different.
    Shmulevich is a bullshitter, Paul Goble, is a BS interpreter.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      According to the last Ukrainian census the majority of the population of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts is ethnically Ukrainian, 56-57%. Ethnic Dwarfstanians are only 38-39%.
      Ethnic Ukrainians have no interest in being part of the dwarf’s Russkii Mir- and why would they? They would only be third-rate citizens, subject to discrimination and worse, as the dwarf’s occupation of the Crimea demonstrates all too clearly.
      And here’s no such thing as “Russian culture”. It was stolen from the Ukrainians, just as its history was stolen from them.

      • Screwdriver

        Most of those “ethnic” Ukrainians have the same relation to Ukrainian galicians ( regular central/eastern Ukrainians are the same as Russians) like Saakashvili.
        Some mixed families were making they kids “Ukrainians”, in order to protect them , and make the life easier for they kids. Same thing was happening with Russian Jews, many of them were “ethnic Russians”, but they all became Jews again, when the door became open for emigration.

        • MichaelA

          typical russian racism
          and entirely untrue
          ukraine has rejected russia
          its your own fault
          get over it

          • Screwdriver

            “ukraine has rejected russia
            its your own fault ”
            My fault ? I am a Jew, and I do not live in Russia.
            But talking about the subject, this is what people say in Ukr. government control territory : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AQN3mR2sHU

          • veth

            A Jew who loves Russian fascism hahahaha

          • MichaelA

            yes its your own fault so get over it
            russian racism means ukraine has rejected russia
            cheap propaganda vids dont change that

        • Oknemfrod

          >central/eastern Ukrainians are the same as Russians<

          I must give you your due: When you intend to state something as asinine as that, you know very well how to do it.

          • Screwdriver

            Get familiar with professors Klyosov, Balanovsky, and Tolochko.

          • Oknemfrod

            I don’t have to get familiar with any “professors” and/or their opinions to tell white from black. Likewise, I don’t care what sort of degree one can brandish if one is going to tell me – a half-Ukrainian, half-Jewish with not a drop of the Russian blood, born and bred in Central Ukraine – that I’m “the same as Russians”. The only link between me and them is that I happen to know their language; period, end of story. I also know English just as well, yet it doesn’t make me “the same as Englishmen”. As a Jew whose first language is Russian, do you fancy that it makes you “the same as Russians”, or maybe nonetheless you’re first and foremost Jewish?

          • Nikoli

            Israel kick him out because they considered him non-jewish.
            In US steals from old jewish people (police record – Briton Beach, Brooklyn).

          • MichaelA

            ah it all makes sense now

          • Screwdriver

            “a half-Ukrainian, half-Jewish with not a drop of the Russian blood”
            You looked to me like a grown up person. Seriously…you not aware how people mixed with each other for centuries ? Jews were somewhat mixed in Spain already before they migrated to other parts of Europe. Then for centuries we were mixing in the Eastern Europe with pols, russian-ukrainians, etc… And Russians-Ukrainians all mixed up with Jews, tatars,pols, you name it. This is all logical, and confirmed by DNA studies. So it is so naive when someone says ” with not a drop of ……blood”
            “As a Jew whose first language is Russian, do you fancy that it makes you “the same as Russians”, or maybe nonetheless you’re first and foremost Jewish?”
            You can not really compare Russian-Ukrainian and Jew/Russian ( or Ukrainian)
            You can distinguish Jewish person if you go to Kiev. But you can not see the difference between Russian/Ukrainian in the streets of Central Ukraine.
            Russians and Ukrainians have almost matching DNAs, Jews , even mixed for centuries, have very different DNAs then Russians/Ukrainians.

          • MichaelA

            which is all just dodging
            typical
            you know nothing about russia and less about ukraine

    • MichaelA

      donbass was always ukrainian
      and ukrainians have been breaking their ties with russia thanks to putin being stupid
      strongest fighters against putins forces were russian speaking ukrainians

    • Eddy Verhaeghe

      Screwdriver, when was the last time you was in Ukraine?

      • Screwdriver

        2013

        • MichaelA

          sorry but no
          you know so little about ukraine you have never been there

  • Dagwood Bumstead

    And with what exactly would the dwarf achieve this? He could only do this by throwing his whole army against Kyiv, and the losses would be horrendous as they were in the Winter War. Furthermore, while he MIGHT be able to seize the country temporarily, he would NOT be able to hold onto it permanently. He simply doesn’t have the forces to do that, unless he denudes the rest of the country of troops. But this would enable Peking to seize what it wants in the Far East.
    Finland was vastly outnumbered by the USSR, yet despite the lack of any support apart from some Swedish volunteers gave Stalin a bloody nose. The dwarf doesn’t have a similar superiority.

    • MichaelA

      true
      the russian army is much weaker than soviet army

    • Screwdriver

      The only resistance to Russian army would be few gangs in Galicia.
      Remember what was written on Bogdan Khmelnitskiy monument in Kiev. “Волим под царя восточного, православного”.

      • MichaelA

        sorry but this is just so funny
        you are an ignorant comedian right?

    • Ihor Dawydiak

      While almost anything is possible there remains a huge difference between “what ifs” and actual probabilities. In that regard, the writer of this article has completely downplayed or even ignored some of the major factors which have dissuaded Putin from seriously entertaining the possibility of launching a full invasion of Ukraine. Here are a few examples: 1) Putin would require the the use of up to three quarters of the Russian Armed Forces (over a million soldiers) to invade and then maintain a full occupation of Ukraine. 2) The Russian military would be faced with a very hostile Ukrainian population and as such would be faced with constant sabotage and civil disruptions. 3) The Ukrainian Armed Forces would fight and the casualties on both sides would be horrendous. 4) A total economic and financial blockade of Russia by the Western powers would become more than a real possibility along with international condemnation of Russia’s actions. 5) Russia would no longer be able to afford and maintain its military presence in Syria and elsewhere around the globe. 6) Russia would be ill prepared to handle civil and military disruptions within its own territory (ie. Tatarstan, Siberia, the occupied lands in the Caucasus Region or even incursions from China). 7) Such an invasion would only invite a full rearmament of NATO and a dramatic escalation of a new “Cold War” between Russia and the Western powers. 8) Russia has been nearing bankruptcy. A full invasion of Ukraine would become “the final straw that broke the camel’s back”. What else would need to be said other than Russia’s impending doom towards total anarchy and that of a failed state?

      • Dagwood Bumstead

        It’s always a possibility that the dwarf becomes so desperate as the last reserves are frittered away that he launches a full-scale attack regardless of the consequences. The Reserve Fund is running on fumes and the Welfare Fund, which was intended for pensions and other social expenditures, is all that’s left- but $80 billion won’t last very long when oil and gas prices remain low and Dwarfstan is losing customers. Two costly wars, in Syria and the Donbas, will only burn up the money that much faster.
        The best estimates suggest that the Welfare Fund will be empty by the end of 2018. Then what? No more pensions? Is Medvedev going to fly around the country telling angry pensioners “There’s just no money. Hang on in there. All the best” as he told Crimean pensioners last year? And the Savushkina trolls should be worried as well. Their pay of 2 litres of rotgut samogon per 12-hour troll shift will be cut to 1 litre on October 1st, with further cuts a distinct possibility. They may even end up in the streets of St Petersburg with a barrel organ plus, if they’re very lucky a monkey, as a reward for loyal service to the dwarf.