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The "Winter War"


Stalin’s government equally sought to exploit the provisions of the Soviet-German treaties to its advantage. The Soviet troops entered Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Bessarabia. These territories used to be part of tsarist Russia but broke away following the 1917 revolution. Now they were speedily sovietized and reincorporated into the USSR as union republics.  

In addition, the USSR unleashed a war against Finland, which also had been designated part of its “sphere of influence.” The Soviet propaganda strove to present the aggression against Finland as the liberation of the Finnish working classes from the yoke of landowners and capitalists. So convinced were Stalin and his generals in the swift victory over the Finns that the Russian troops were sent to Finland unprepared for a long military campaign. Dressed in light summer uniforms and suffering from severe frostbite, the Red Army soldiers soon found themselves embroiled in a long drawn out “Winter War.”

Despite the overwhelming advantage over the Finns in men and equipment, the Red Army failed to score an early and impressive victory and was bogged down in a lengthy conflict. During the 105 days of the war, it lost nearly 290,000 men, including 74,000 dead. This was the cost the Soviet Union paid to persuade Finland to give up a number of small territories along the Soviet-Finnish border. The staunch resistance of the Finns helped Finland to avoid sovietization enforced in the other Baltic states. The relations between the Soviet Union and Finland were irreparably damaged: following the German attack on Russia in June 1941, Finland took Germany’s side in the war.

In contrast to the Red Army’s uninspiring performance in the Finnish campaign, the German army scored one lightning victory after another in the initial stages of the war. It subjugated Poland in thirty-six days, defeated the combined British and French troops in May 1940 in just twenty-six days, and conquered Greece and Yugoslavia in eighteen days. The tactical ineptitude of the Soviet high command and the heavy casualties sustained by the Red Army in the war against Finland raised serious doubts about its combat readiness.

It is highly probable that its poor showing in Finland may have influenced Hitler’s decision to invade the USSR and strengthened his confidence in a swift conquest. He now considered seriously the possibility of routing Russia ahead of Germany’s decisive attack on Britain. On Hitler’s orders German generals drew up the plan for a blitzkrieg—a lightning strike—against the USSR. The conquest of the Soviet Union would spell the end of the Communist state and constitute an important step toward the attainment by Germany of global supremacy. The Nazis’ objectives in the east also envisaged that the mass of Slavic, Jewish, and other nationalities that populated the Soviet Union would be enslaved or physically exterminated as an “inferior race.”  

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USSR in World War II


Soviet Russia

Understanding the Soviet Period
Russian Political Culture
Soviet Ideology
The Soviet System
Soviet Nationalities
The Economic Structure
The Socialist Experiment
"Great Leap" to Socialism
The USSR in World War II
Stalin's Legacy
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The Economy in Crisis
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