Historical Comparison: Finland’s Winter War vs Russian Invasion of Ukraine

I have been reading about the Winter War in past few months as part of my work on a book about Finnish small arms, and I have been really struck by the similarity in images of that fighting and the current war in Ukraine. I’d like to take a few minutes today to talk about the similarities – and differences – between Ukraine and Finland’s fighting against Russian and Soviet invasion.

Both invasions were launched over Russian/Soviet concern over border security, and both with attempts at false flag attacks as justification. In both cases the Russian/Soviet forces were vastly overconfident in their ability to quickly defeat their opponents, and in both cases they expected to be met with significant Finnish.Ukrainian domestic support. In both cases, those assumptions were completely mistaken, and the invasions instead solidly unified the defenders instead of dividing them. In both cases the defending forces has significantly less air and armor strength that the invading forces.

In the end of the Winter War, Finland’s military managed to hold on just barely long enough to conclude an armistice – although they were days or weeks away from complete collapse on the Karelian Isthmus at the end. The treaty cost them about 10% of Finland’s sovereign territory, but they retained their independence. A similar outcome is a definite possibility in Ukraine, although Ukraine today has a few major advantages the Finns did not have.

First, international opinion has been massively unified behind Ukraine, and huge amounts of military aid have been send to Ukraine very quickly. In 1939/1940, European assistance was essentially limited to a few thousand volunteer troops from Sweden. France and Britain both talked about sending expeditionary forces to assist Finland, but these were really attempts to block German access to Swedish iron ore and not genuine attempts to assist Finland. In any case, they did not actually happen. Finland spent the entire war desperately short of antitank weapons, and depended on land mines and Molotov cocktails. Ukraine, on the other hand, has been supplied with thousands of modern antitank and antiaircraft missile systems and used them to great effect.

Second, Ukraine is a much larger country than Finland. With the retreat of Russian forces from Kyiv, Ukraine has strategic options that Finland did not. Finland was forced to defend the fixed defences of the Mannerheim Line in a type of warfare that allowed the Soviet forces to concentrate and exploit their advantages in artillery and armor. If the Mannerheim Line fell, Helsinki because essentially defenceless and the war would quickly be lost. Finland had much better military success in the north, where they could retreat and trade territory for time and ambush opportunities. Ukraine does not have an equivalent to the Mannerheim Line, and can be more flexible in its defense. This does not guarantee victory, of course, but it gives them options Finland did not have.


  1. Thank you for the analysis. With nothing other than my opinion to back it up, I think Putin advances as far as he can by May 9th, declarers victory wherever the line is at that time. It will be then up to the Ukrainians to either accept the new border or to do something about it. What will be interesting if the power players at the Kremlin accept what Putin initiated in the long term.

    I want to give a shout out to the Poles for supporting the humanitarian effort. I have a Polish GF. Her brother in Poland took in a woman and her 5 yo son. Her man remained to fight. All of her brothers neighbors have also taken in Ukrainians and her cousin, two families. My GF brother has gone as far as finding a job for the woman that is living with her.

    • Hi! I think Putin did the right thing for his nation’s security. I remember well the American invasions of Dominican Republic,Grenada and Panama. This was for security. Putin is a Russian nationalist, and he sees NATO as a threat. If you love your nation,you respect Putin’s decision.

      • Eric, I’m going to disagree with you. I think Putin is doing tremendous damage to Russian security. There were a few famous “incidents” in 1946 where former Soviet foreign minister Maxim Litvinov was shockingly frank with Western reporters — shocking because Soviet public personalities almost never dared question a Stalin policy — but Litvinov complained aloud about the “…return in Russia to the outmoded concept of security in terms of territory—the more you’ve got, the safer you are.” (From an interview Litvinov gave to CBS correspondent Richard C. Hottelet in London on June 18, 1946; as quoted in Wilson D. Miscamble’s From Roosevelt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima and the Cold War. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006; p. 296 ) And that sums up the basic problem of 20th century Russian/Soviet security, that it is anchored in 19th century concepts of control. Stalin, shocked by Hitler’s betrayal in 1941, essentially concluded that the territorial expansion of 1939-1941 (seizing the ithsmus from Finland, seizing the Baltic states, Bessarabia (Moldova) from Romania, and eastern Poland) were not enough, that the Soviet sphere of control needed to be even bigger, and so he created the Soviet Bloc in Eastern Europe over 1944-1950. His control mania quickly alienated a close ally, Tito in Yugoslavia (1948), but essentially he built this empire in Eastern Europe to be a massive buffer zone to absorb any further invasions from Western European. BUT, in doing so he militarized this new empire to the extent that Western Europe had no choice but to organize against it (NATO), and he installed deeply unpopular regimes in the Soviet Bloc satellites which would cost the Soviet Union HUGE amounts of investment in terms of military occupation, intelligence and police services, militarized border controls, technology to block Western radio and TV broadcasts, etc. Eastern Europe, over 1960-1989, very literally bankrupted Moscow. This is why Gorbachev dumped Eastern Europe over 1988-1990; he was throwing dead weight overboard to save the Soviet Union itself, which (if you remember the 1990 4+1 Allied Power Agreement that allowed West Germany to reunite with East Germany, Moscow couldn’t even afford at the time to bring their own military forces home from Germany; part of the agreement bound Bonn to finance transportation of Soviet forces back to the USSR and the building of barracks for them in Russia.) Stalin was paranoid and viewed confrontation with the West as inevitable, and so he went about creating the confrontation that he assumed already existed. As multiple Cold War historian have observed, by alienating the populations of Eastern Europe through oppression, Stalin’s empire in reality compromised Soviet security by forcing Moscow to constantly finance, manage and monitor its satellite states. The Czech historian Vojtech Mastny did a lot of research post-1989 on the Warsaw Pact, and found mountains of evidence about how the Soviet Bloc regimes and their army officer corps did not trust what their (mostly conscript) armies would do in the event of war with NATO.

        Putin is making exactly the same mistakes. He has constantly threatened countries in the “ближнее зарубежье” (“Near abroad” — countries once ruled by Tsarist Russia or the Soviet Union, which Putin believes Russia deserves to rule again) with economic consequences and even military conquest. He has single-handedly made NATO a very popular organization among these countries. For instance he launched a massive state-wide cyber attack on Estonia in 2006 because the Estonians had the temerity to remove a Soviet monument from downtown Tallinn to a cemetery outside the city. (That cyber attack was the first of its kind, nation-vs.-nation, and is studied today by cybersecurity specialists.) Putin has declared the independence of the 3 Baltic countries illegal by Russian law, he hade repeated threats against Poland, against Georgia (invading in 2008 and carefully targeting economic assets in georgia with Western investment for destruction), and of course repeatedly against Ukraine. Before this crisis NATO had (according to Reuters) about 8,000 troops total spread across the Baltic Countries, Poland and Romania, with another 3,500 in the Western Balkans (Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo) on peacekeeping duty. Keeping in mind that Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 with more than 3 million troops (and failed), clearly NATO does not pose a threat to Russia. Putin is ignoring the long-term costs of seizing and enforcing Russian rule over large territories (like Ukraine). Some articles in Radio Free Europe before this crisis catalogued just how far the economies had collapsed in the Russian-ruled parts of Donbas, making them utterly dependent on handouts from Moscow. And Putin has let both local thugs as well as the FSB run amok in those regions, so that large numbers of people (ethnic Russians) otherwise happy about belonging to Russia again have fled, either to Russia itself or even Ukraine. So once again, Putin, with his 19th century mindset, does not know how to generate partnerships with foreign, independent countries, building a Russian equivalent to Britain’s Commonwealth (for instance) — he only knows how to conquer and control, and he ignores just how badly that strategy failed Stalin and the Soviet Union, and played a major role in the USSR’s demise in 1991. So conquering Ukraine may look good from a “Risk” board game perspective, but recent history provides plenty of evidence of how it will produce exactly the opposite results from what Putin wants.

  2. Good analysis.
    Any book recommendations on Finnish history? General history, and the Winter & Continuation wars.
    Thank you

  3. Ian, another excellent video! Thanks! I’ll just add that Stalin’s purges in the years immediately leading up to the Winter War left the Red Army a decapitated mess, both at the senior level and at the NCO level, so that the poorly trained Soviet (not necessarily Russian) soldiers were also poorly led in 1939. A quote from British military historian John Keegan: “By the autumn of 1938 three out of five of the Red Army’s Marshalls were dead, thirteen out of fifteen army commanders, 110 out of 195 divisional commanders and 186 out of 406 brigadiers. The massacre of those in administrative and politico-military appointments was even more extensive: all eleven deputy commissars for defence were shot, seventy-five out of eighty members of the Military Soviet, and all military district commanders, together with most of their chiefs of political administration—those party commissars whose function was to ensure that soldiers should not take decisions or commitments which might attract the disfavour of the party.” (Keegan, John, The Second World War. New York: Penguin Books, 1990; Pg. 175) Also, because he had witnessed Stalin’s own military incompetence in the 1919-1921 Russo-Polish War, Soviet General Mikhail Tukhachevsky was purged by Stalin in 1937 and his doctrine of mobile warfare in the Red Army was scrapped.

    • Speaking as an armor officer, if there was one place on Earth that Tukhachevsky’s Deep Battle did not apply, it was Finland. A scarce road net bordered by vast forests canalizing movement into preplanned kill zones is definitely not tank country.

      • I am not sure that there is a doctrine that will work against a pissed-off Finn with a rifle in his native forest, other than carpet bombing on a scale that would have bankrupted Stalin. There are some cases where the men are way more important than the terrain or the doctrine; the Vietnamese come to mind as another example. Who’re also, oddly, somewhat symmetrically placed in relation to China. With a similar history of attempted hegemony being beaten back by sheer bloody-mindedness…

        Although, I think the Vietnamese do have a different personality profile than the stereotypical Finn. Not to mention, the cuisine is a lot more attractive to the palate.

    • Meanwhile Russian forces now are hit not only by Ukraine’s attacks, but also corruption in own defense industry. It is likely that refurbishment of Moskva went not to most competent contractor, see: https://www.news.com.au/world/europe/corruption-may-have-played-a-key-role-in-vladimir-putins-most-embarrassing-single-loss/news-story/0dce7bb5fa6410d677e07395de5e18b5
      It must be noted that corruption in Russian government, for example https://www.britannica.com/place/Russia/Russia-from-1801-to-1917
      (…)There were also many antiquated, discriminatory, and contradictory laws. Large categories of the population, such as Jews and members of heretical Christian sects, suffered from various legal disabilities. Since not all those discriminated against were poor and since many small officials were unable to support their families, bending or evasion of the law had its market price, and the needy official had a supplementary source of income. Corruption of this sort existed on a mass scale. To a certain extent it was a redeeming feature of the regime: if there had been less corruption the government would have been even slower, less efficient, and more oppressive.(…)

    • Another point to ponder is that while the Winter War was unfolding, another war was raging in the east that went little noticed at the time. Hitler is supposed to have taken note of the Red Army’s poor performance in Finland and this is believed to have played a role in his decisions about Operation Barbarossa, but to the east in 1939 General Georgi Zhukov and others executed precisely the kind of combined arms operation in Soviet-dominated Mongolia that eluded the Soviets in Finland. The Battle of Khalkhin Gol was such a devastating loss for the Japanese that Tokyo dropped ts plans for expanding Japanese Manchukuo/Chinese Manchuria into Mongolia and signed the non-aggression pact with Moscow that both sides honored until August, 1945 when Stalin (at American insistence) declared war on Japan.

      • It’s a bit disingenuous to say Stalin attacked Japan “at American insistence”. Stalin very much wanted to gain unrestricted access to the Pacific Ocean. He also broke far more promises than he kept.

      • Tomek, That had occurred to me too, but the Eurasian Steppe is pretty much perfect tank country compared to Finland. BTW, some German troops stationed on the Eastern Front developed a type of combat fatigue caused by the immensity of the terrain. They felt like ants crawling across a parking lot under an sky that went on forever

  4. I think it is also important to note that the terrain in Ukraine’s south and east is very different from that north of Kyiv – the south/east is very open, not forested, and so the ability of Ukrainian units to approach close to Russian forces is vastly reduced compared to the north-of-Kyiv situation. Unless Ukraine is able to obtain a significant increase in long range artillery (or perhaps air power) the ability to eject Russia from the south/east is very limited. Ukraine is already fighting a war of national mobilization, while Russia has not (yet) internal “declared war” and brought in the vast number of conscripts who so far have (mostly) been absent. It seems plausible that if Russia does not have a substantial victory in Donbas region soon (for example breaking out of the bridgehead south of Iyzum) then they may well “declare war” and bring in a lot more troops.

    Of course Ukraine does have much much more international support now than Finland did, and it is plausible that could increase. I will, for myself, say that I hope that happens.

    The National Bank of Ukraine has decided to open a special fundraising account to support the Armed Forces of Ukraine:

    Come Back Alive:

    United Help Ukraine, Inc (some USA employers will match donations to this non-profit)

    • Russia can maybe bring in more troops, but not more material.
      IE, Russia has about 3000 tanks in active service (2250 available if we count a 75% availability rate) and about 3000 in storage that can be activated with some effort (and they are already taking them out of storage).
      So about 5250 tanks available in total. Of those 531 had been destroyed or captured, with photographic evidence. Counted that not all the tanks lost had been photograped, Russia has probably already lost around 700 tanks, or about 15% of the total.
      Not only. Tanks are subject to severe wear. They are not made for long campaigns. Probably the same number of tanks are close to be lost simply due to wear. So Russia is about to lose 1/3 of its tanks, and has not the possibility to replace those losses.
      Same for helicopters and aircrafts. They are losing them at a faster rate than they are able to build them.
      So those more troops would essentially be cannon fodder, unless Russia is massively aided by China.

  5. Historically, Russians have not had a good handle on what their neighbors really think of them. There are a lot of historical cases where you can find that syndrome in play, going back to the Tsars. Finland and the mess in Ukraine are only the more well-known occasions where this has affected their military planning.

    The typical path is that the Russians plan the invasion with the idea that the object of their invasion is filled with people who really, truly want to be Russian. They invade, find out that this isn’t so, and then they throw a temper-tantrum replete with war crimes galore, because the people who disappointed them don’t deserve to live, let alone live as not-Russian. Then, if that fails, they then turn their heads and ignore the entire issue with the same sort of attitude that Aesop’s fox demonstrates about grapes.

    Look at the Russian Empire conquests of Central Asia for more examples, generally ones where it all worked out in Russian favor–Usually including essential genocide of the ones who didn’t want to be Russian. The mindset only seems to really work against non-Western underdeveloped nations.

    It’s a strangely anachronistic mentality to be seen in the 21st Century, but then… Russia ain’t exactly a modern country, in some senses.

    • Yeah, and I just heard that the Ukrainians have discovered that the AK-12 isn’t as great as it was thought to be…

      • That the current issue AK-12 is basically a cheapened version of what was originally planned has been known for years. Then QC issues abound because of the corruption and you get a bad rifle.

    • I recall the dichotomy of the treatment of captured populations by the Japanese Imperial Army. In Indonesia and Burma they were greeted as liberators, and subsequently worked with locals to rule. Finally they aided militants to prepare for their own inevitable retreat, leaving behind an independence movement as revenge against the returning European empires.

      But in the Philippines and Vietnam, the masses viewed them as enemies, and their brutality, at a personal level, was as sickening as it was in China.

      These catch-up-from-behind empires are really full of wounded pride and jealousy. The world must fit their victim narratives or be erased. That’s what empowered their economic sacrifices for military power. The Dark Side is quicker, but forever will it dominate your destiny.

  6. Another difference is that Stalin could send against Finland how many soldiers he wanted, and the Soviet manufacturing capability could supply them of whatever equipment they needed (even if those advantages had been very badly used in reality).
    Putin can’t do the same without major changes to Russian laws regarding enlistment and conscription, and for equipment Russia relies on a mass of Soviet leftovers that are already in short supply and without the possibility to replace them at the rate his armed forces are expending them.

    • Even at his most delusional about trusting Hitler, Stalin couldn’t send even a large part of his army against Finland. He had too many other potential wars to worry about. In that time, the eternal Russian paranoia about threats from all sides was not a myth because Communism made it a target, actually triggered fascist movements among its neighbors because of their own paranoia.

      What we’re about to see is Putin having to strip his defenses to concentrate forces, and thus expose the hollowness of screaming that Russia is similarly threatened by evil Polish Nazis and Finnish Nazis and Baltic Nazis and Turkish Nazis and Azerbaijani Nazis and Iranian Nazis and Chinese Nazis. If you’re leaving a part of your border undefended now, why did you have defenses there in the first place? No one wants to invade Russia, but the entire premise of the regime is that everyone wants to invade.

      • At the rate Russia is going, it’s going to have an implementation of North Korea’s actual major defense mechanism in place: It’s such a basket-case that NOBODY wants to take on the aftermath of fighting a war with them and then winning it. The main reason that the South Koreans haven’t said “Fsck it…” and headed due North with their army is that they did a wide-eyed review of what national reunification cost the former West Germany after the Berlin Wall came down. Right after they realized how many year’s GDP they’d piss away trying to bring North Korea into even the late 20th Century, the former Reunification Ministry got a serious set of budget cuts, and ceased much in the way of operations. Before 1989, you could find their posters up everywhere in South Korea, agitating for reunification with their northern brothers. After calculating what that’d cost, the South Koreans basically said “No thank you…”, and that’s where we are today.

        I mean, it’s a technique… Kinda like suggesting a rape victim defecate and urinate on themselves. At the rate they’re going, Russia is going to be perfectly safe from anyone doing anything to them. Ever.

        • Absolutely. North Korea has succeeded in creating the first perpetual poison-pill defense. I’ve tried wrapping my mind around what the hell could replace Kim’s regime, and I ended up imagining a S.Korean-Chinese co-dominion as a massive humanitarian disaster project, with teams of ROK and PLA soldiers having to deliver aid in the boondocks and talk the dead-enders out of caves. No one wants to touch this mess.

  7. The symmetry of these two conflicts was not lost on me before this post. There are all kinds of parallels, many of which were mentioned.
    The unfortunate “enemy of my enemy is my friend” bit that Putin has tried to exploit is one that deserves acknowledgement and was not mentioned. Enough said. Full disclosure: I am of Ukrainian extraction, despite my Polish or Prussian name [Tetzlaff]. My grandfather was born in Siberia during WWI where his family had been exiled from the Caucuses (where his family were welcomed as German-speaking settlers by Alexander II). Some of my ancestors who did not chose to become settlers in Georgia were born in Kiev.
    Long narrative, one single point: People who get kicked around learn to fight back or perish. Cлава Україні

  8. I think the comparison with the Winter War attack on Finland misses the point.
    Putins attack on the Ukraine is in my view more similar to Stalin joining Hitlers attack on Poland. Leaving mass graves of non-combatants behind, has so far been mostly associated with the troops of Hitler and Stalin. As far as I know, there was no comparable incident in the Finland Winter War. Now the Russian army commanders under Putin see fit to let mass exterminations of civilians let happen again.
    I am in no doubt that war crimes are committed by both sides. But the scale of civilian killings by the Russian army beats anything even the most anti-Russian observers would have dared to expect. Comparisons with the Winter War in my opinion unintentionally play down what the Russian army is doing in the Ukraine.

    • I am not attempting to be rude but the country is called
      Ukraine. NOT “ the Ukraine “. It’s a very important difference.

      • I’ve come across this oddity in some Western news outlets in recent weeks. I’m not saying you intend this, Stephen, just thought I’d comment after seeing your comment. The claim has been made that the expression “the Ukraine” was a Soviet invention created to further objectify Ukrainians, and that modern Ukrainians hate this term precisely because this is a Soviet artifact.

        First Problem: This term, “the Ukraine,” is an English-language artifact and has been in use since at least the 19th century, possibly earlier. For instance, it shows up (just picking a book off my shelf) in Halford MacKinder’s famous “Democratic Ideals and Reality” published in 1919 but based on lectures he gave over 1904-1905, like this statement: “In Russia a chain of German settlements lies eastward through the north of the Ukraine almost to Kieff.” (p. 74). And this oddity was not limited only to Ukraine; other parts of the world randomly got the same treatment, like Winston Churchill’s description of the Battle of Khartoum which took place in “the Sudan.” Only in the 20th century did English begin to drop the “the” in geographic terms as just plain pointless.

        Second Problem: If the Soviets invented this expression, “the Ukraine,” they did it in some foreign language like English. The Slavic languages (including Russian and Ukrainian) have no definite articles (i.e., the English word “the”). In Polish, for instance — another Slavic language — the sentence “Kobieta je jabłko” can mean any of the following: “A woman eats an apple,” The woman eats an apple,” “A woman eats the apple,” “The woman eats the apple.” So it is literally impossible to say “the Ukraine” in Russian.

        • While anecdote is the opposite of data, when I was talking to a Jewish WWI veteran in 1977 he did call Ukraine “The Ukraina” which may have been Polish usage at a time when the area was still split between two empires.

          • Hello Slow Joe, As I mentioned, none of the Slavic languages (including Polish — a language I speak) has definite articles. Your Polish acquaintance was most likely using the English expression that (presumably) he picked up, which was in common usage throughout the 20th century. But in Polish, “Ukraina” can mean both “Ukraine” and “the Ukraine” — with no way to distinguish (in Polish) between the two.

      • I am extremely confused. the is derogatory term in English? So if historian says for example …then Frederick the Great did… it is show of very low regard for said character?

        • In some cases the “The” applied to a region, specifically distinguishing it from being a sovereign state.
          The American South (part of the USA).
          The Riviera (part of France).
          The Balkans (many states).
          Of course, many regions also aren’t named this way. And when The Philippines became a sovereign state as well as an archipelago, it retained its old plural name, and the “The” seems to be necessary in that case.

      • Well, English is not my native language, but I am quite sure that with some other country names it would be the same:
        … army is doing in the Netherlands.
        … army is doing in the United Kingdom.
        Interpreting this as having a negative implication is really new to me.

    • There’s one major reason why the Russians did not murder civilians in Finland, ie the Finns did manage to evacuate the civilian population in time and the Russians did not occupy major populated areas with the population left in place. Massacres of civilians is the classic way for Russia to behave, the Finns know, for example Hailuoto 1714 as an example

      • In addition, if the Finns hadn’t been as fierce as they were, Finnish soldiers, officers, intellectuals etc would probably have faced similar fates as the Poles murdered at Katyn or those Poles who were intentionally drowned in the White Sea by the Russians.

  9. Apart from undeniable parallels thoroughly presented by Ian, there are some important differences between the Soviet aggression on Finland and Russian aggression on Ukraine.

    The Soviet Union was a hard totalitarian state, with essentially unlimited capacity to squeeze its population, mobilising men at will and forcing workers to 12-hours shifts for hunger wages.  Obedience was ruthlessly enforced; you were shot for stealing a loaf of bread. Putin’s Russia represents a fairly ‘soft’ version of autocracy where capacity to enslave people is incomparably lower.  The draft is dodged, people work if proper (by their standards) wage is paid, and if you steal military radios that’s fine as long as a few are still left for inspection.  

    The 1930-1940′ Soviet Union was essentially an autarchy.  In Putin’s Russia, the tanks have French electronics.Warfare back in 1940′ was incomparably cheaper. 

    Sending a soldier to the 1940′ battlefield cost as much as a pair of boots, some fabric to cloth him and a Mosin rifle with a handful of rounds. Russia anno domini 2022 – with its Spain-size economy – can field an army, well…  of the Spanish size.  

    And last but not least – the Soviet Union won with Finland.Putin’s Russia will lose to Ukraine.

    Slava Ukraini!


    • It’s what I said. Stalin could send against Finland how many soldiers he wanted, and the Soviet manufacturing capability could supply them of whatever equipment they needed (even if those advantages had been very badly used in reality).
      Putin can’t do the same without major changes to Russian laws regarding enlistment and conscription (that would make him higly unpopular) and infact already has problems in this regard, and for equipment Russia relies on a mass of Soviet leftovers that are already in short supply and without the possibility to replace them at the rate his armed forces are expending them.

      The attack in Donbass is not working, and it’s not going to work, because it would require a NATO-like strategy of a week or two of intense precision bombing on the enemy troops and supply lines before engaging them with ground forces. The Russians lack the ability to perform precison bombing (not enough guided bombs available, aircrafts and helicopters are shot down if they fly too low) so they are casually spreading bombs and missiles on the cities, a strategy that only enrages the defenders.

    • “The 1930-1940′ Soviet Union was essentially an autarchy. In Putin’s Russia, the tanks have French electronics.Warfare back in 1940′ was incomparably cheaper.”

      OK… Not to be an annoying pedant, but there is a difference between the word “autarchy”, which is defined as “1. Absolute rule or power; autocracy.
      2. A country under such rule.”
      and “autarky”, which is “1. A policy of national self-sufficiency and nonreliance on imports or economic aid. 2. A self-sufficient region or country.”

      I think you’re meaning to use the second word, in the sense that the Soviet Union was, at that time, somehow self-sufficient. It manifestly was NOT.

      Kamil Galeev has a bunch of highly educational historical information about Russian/Ukrainian history and the whole industrialization program under the Tsars and later Communist regime. Fascinating stuff, most of it long-forgotten and entirely suppressed by the propagandists. This thread I’m linking to is an excellent entry point into it all, but be prepared to spend a few hours following all the links. I’ve known a lot of this stuff in isolation, but this absolutely integrates and clarifies all the various links. Communism flatly would not have worked, absent significant inputs from the West. I find the argument that the Soviet Union and Russia are semi-peripheral nations to the core highly compelling; it makes a lot more sense than many frameworks. It also explains a lot about why the Russians/Soviets have always had unrest as a major export item…


      All of his threads are worth reading. I don’t think there’s been one that I’ve followed all the way through where I didn’t learn something, or make a connection I hadn’t seen before. He offers a master-class in Russian politics and history, from a certain standpoint. Not to say he’s absolutely right about everything, but he articulates his viewpoint very well. At the least, it’s educational as hell.

  10. I agree with you that there are some clear similarities between the two conflicts. Whether or not the Ukraine will succeed in forcing the Russians to abandon their plan is still very much in question; the Ukraine has the quality on their side but the Russians have the quantity (which has a quality all of its own). It all comes down to whatever is going on in Putin’s head.

    One of Putin’s targets was to seize Odessa, blocking all Ukrainian access to the sea. If he continues with that, it could find himself in trouble. I am currently reading a book about the world underground, and read this last night:

    “Odessa, like Paris, is a city built on limestone , and it contains the world’s most extensive sub-urban quarries. Some 1,500 miles of tunnel make up Odessa’s invisible city, sinking to a depth of 160 feet over three levels…. when the Germans were closing in on Odessa during WW2, the Soviets left behind Ukrainian rebel groups hidden under the city in the catacombs. Some of them remained underground for over a year.”

  11. It was simply the love affair with the commies that caused the Brits and the Yanks to turn a blind eye when Stalin invaded Finland. Today school history hardly mentions anything about Stalin’s invasion of Finland, because it interferes with the narrative that poor old innocent Stalin was playing with his grand daughter and minding his own business, when the wicked Germans attacked him for no rhyme or reason.

  12. With an (initial) population of 44 million, the ability of Ukraine to mobilize troops has hardly been scratched, if we are to believe that human nature has not changed since the 20th century.
    In that bloody era, it was not unusual for sovereign states to conscript up to 10% of its entire population at once. And since many of those replaced those already lost, the total number who served over the course of the war was greater than that. And these were almost entirely from the male population. How far they could have squeezed the female population is unclear since the latter often had to take over vital jobs vacated by the drafted. The Soviets were among those who took all that to the limit, and I don’t even know how many Soviet citizens fought and died as partisans.

    And then there’s that freakish outlier on all counts, Paraguay and its suicidal wars of the 1860s. Worse even than the % of White Confederates who served and died in the American Civil War.

    As horrible as it sounds, as long as outside aid continues, a country could be able to put up to 20% of its population into uniform, and have over 10% killed.

    But the key to it all is the belief that one is defending the existence of one’s homeland. Putin is trying to fabricate that narrative before he dares full mobilization. But all the arguments to be made would require a belief that all of NATO is moving to conquer Russia, which means his credibility would require attacking the Baltics and Poland. (And soon Finland and Sweden.)

    • Much of the working age (and thus military age) population of Ukraine has been working abroad. I heard about half of the working population is working in foreign countries. Sure, some have returned to defend their home country, but how many have stayed away? So the recruitment pool is not as big as it may seem. Similar goes for Russia. Many Russians are working abroad as well.

      I doubt Putin is going to repeat Stalin’s campaigns in WW2. Hence the Kremlin stating from the beginning the actions in Ukraine being of limited nature with limited goals. They should be very well aware of todays russian armed forces limited capabilities and ressources.

      • From what beginning? Because I remember the goal being the “de-nazification and de-militarization of Ukraine” with Zelensky’s government being described as “a gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis,” as “little Nazis” and “openly neo-Nazi.”
        So the goal was the surrender of the Ukrainian Army and the change of government.
        Only after the defeat at Kiev teh goals became limited, but certainly not the actions. Russia used and is using in Ukraine a very high percentage of its mobile forces.

  13. One correction: The Russians did not establish air superiority over Ukraine. The balance of power in the air was similar in both cases, ~2000 modern-ish combat aircraft for Russia, ~100 older models for Finland and Ukraine, but for some bafflingly incomprehensible reason, Russia has still failed to achieve air superiority.

    The Ukrainians don’t have it either, of course. Both sides are using manned combat aircraft sparingly, for short and specific missions over the battlefield and very rarely for any sort of deep strike or interdiction. In particular, we’re seeing Ukrainian mechanized brigades moving along Ukrainian roads in broad daylight, flying Ukrainian banners, in a manner that would have been suicide for e.g. a Panzergrenadier regiment in France in 1944. And nobody on either side has on-call close air support.

    Ukrainian surface-to-air missiles may be playing a role here, but details are scarce. Everything we thought we knew about modern air warfare says that the Russians should have been able to knock down Ukraine’s air defenses fairly quickly, and why that didn’t happen is going to be an area of intense study going forward.

    • For that kind of warfare you need precision guided bombs. Russia have them in short supply, so those attacks should be made, with unguided bombs, from very close to achieve a certain accuracy, but MANPADS makes this mission profile suicidal on the battlefield as AA missiles did for deep strikes. That’s why Russians are relying heavily on long range missiles (to the point that some analysts believes they are close to having completely depleted them).

  14. It seems to me that Russia/Soviet Union thinking in both cases was predicated on their version of blitzkrieg style offense that did not happen to be as effective as they believed due to poor prior planning and command/leadership. The fact that Russia does not use airpower in a very optimized manner, due to cost means that they have cut their own capability very badly in the face of strongly led determined defenders. Somewhere, I saw an article discussing Russia handicapping their air force by not using smart bombs due to cost. Failure to fund the best possible weapon system limits one’s ability to reduce the opposition defences quickly and effectively and puts men and materiel at greater risk for loss.

  15. if anybody did not thought just this that person never looked into a history book. yeah go ahead tzar commrad putin.. thread finns and have two of that caliber at the throat.

    see some refugees here at my job. quite polite well cared people. hope for the best prep for the worst.

  16. The best comment so far was Tam Keel’s reaction to Finland and Sweden announcing they were considering joining NATO.
    On the face of it Putin keeps stepping on rake after rake as his blitzkrieg and regime failed and Russian War crimes gained prominence. On the other hand, Putin has effectively forced Russians to either unite behind him or emigrate. While not overtly stated, binding the oligarchy and purging opposition are objectives Putin has achieved.

  17. Ian you missed the Motti which was how the Finns held on.
    It’s how outnumbered 105::1 they thwarted the offensive sufficiently to get a deal.


    The Mannerheim line fixed to the front while the Soviet columns backed up on the road and the Finns improvised “Motti” tactics to break up the columns into pockets then reduce the pockets individually. This was the true Brilliance of the Finns.
    It’s one of the greatest feats of warfare in history.


    Finland had a government and a Mannerheim.
    What Finland wasn’t was ah…er…a ah…sort of Cayman’s Island money laundering operation nor was it a Mafia Consortium including Nazi Mafias that don’t get along ala the Mob in America pre-syndicate days.

    Also Finland never got in bed with the Nazis until Hitler decided to invade the USSR and put troops there…ahem…

    Nor was the Finnish government headed by a comedian drag queen [the movie is “Napoleon and the Corporal”] under the control of a foreign intelligence service.

    now in the end the Ukrainians valor despite knowing well all of the above will get them a better deal and more respect.

    But Ukraine needs a Mannerheim [they have at least one you know but he’s oddly hanging back now] and none has appeared…probably for the same reason Ataturk bided his time, as indeed did William T Sherman.

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