Sir W. Seeds to Viscount Halifax.—(Received January 5, 1940.)
Moscow, December 7, 1939.
I FEEL convinced that, when M. Molotov suggested to the Finnish Minister
in Moscow on the 5th October that, owing to the changes brought about by the outbreak of war in Europe, it would be useful if certain political questions could be discussed with Finland, neither he nor M. Stalin, nor, indeed, foreign observers in Moscow, contemplated that this country would be at war with Finland on the 30th November. It seems evident that, the Soviet demands on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania having been accepted with servile readiness by those countries, the Kremlin thought that Finland would not dare to reject similar demands made on her. As Soviet spokesmen have since emphasised, the total population of Finland is, after all, not much greater than that of one Soviet city—Leningrad. The Finnish Government, however, did not fall in readily with the plans of the Soviet Government; and the negotiations, instead of being completed in a few days, as in the case of each of the Baltic countries, were prolonged until the
middle of November, the Finnish Government being ready to concede certain of the Soviet demands, but refusing to agree to others which would have seriously impaired the independence and sovereignty of their country.
2. Meanwhile, a number of developments occurred which were calculated
to disturb the smooth course of the negotiations. There was on the 11th October the mild démarche of the Scandinavian countries in Moscow on behalf of Finland, the rebuff suffered by the Soviet Union owing to the breakdown of the Soviet-Turkish negotiations on the 16th October, the intervention of President Roosevelt and finally, the meeting at Stockholm on the 18th and 19th October of the heads of the four Northern States, which was clearly designed to demonstrate the solidarity of the Scandinavian countries with Finland. The Finnish negotiators in Moscow, possibly heartened by these evidences of international support and more convinced than ever by the outcome of the Soviet-Turkish negotiations that the last resort the Soviet Union would not have recourse to hostile action against Finland, believed no doubt that, if the Kremlin was not obliged to lose face the Soviet Government would eventually be prepared to make concessions to the Finnish point of view. With this object in mind, the Finnish Government preserved the strictest secrecy as to the course of the negotiations. On their part the Soviet Government must have been considerably worried by the unyielding attitude of Finland and her failure to conform to the Baltic type. The longer such negotiations were protracted, the greater was likely to be the
resistance put up by other Powers, such as Roumania, to which the Soviet Union was next likely to address its demands, and the more other States would surely be asking themselves whether the Soviet Union could not be defied with impunity.
3. Some such feelings must have been present in the mind of the Soviet
Government when M. Molotov, in his speech to the Supreme Council on the
31st October, unexpectedly broke the carefully-guarded silence as to the course of the negotiations with a detailed account of the Soviet proposals. It was evident that M. Molotov's references to the Soviet "minimum demands" and the general tone of his remarks on the negotiations were intended to intimidate Finland. Further intimidation was attempted by the publication of the abusive front-page article in the Pravda of the 3rd November, the translation of which was forwarded to your Lordship under cover of my despatch No. 317 of that date. These opening guns were followed by a cannonade of articles in the Soviet press, the intention of which was evidently to continue with the tactics of intimidation. When, after the breakdown of the negotiations and the departure from Moscow of the Finnish negotiators on the 13th November, it became evident that Finland could not be bullied by threats into conceding the Soviet demands, Soviet tactics
were changed; and from the tone of the articles then published in the Soviet press it would seem that the Soviet Government may have thought that Finland could be brought to heel by economic pressure and by the strain on the resources of the country of maintaining mobilisation over a considerable period. Alternatively, this may only have been the line indicated to the Soviet press while the Soviet Government were themselves undecided as to what the next step should be. At any rate, the press campaign against Finland, which had begun with M. Molotov's speech of the 31st October and had continued until the breakdown of the negotiations, was carried on in a considerably subdued form until the 26th November. On that date occurred "that serious incident on the Soviet-Finnish frontier" which, in the light of subsequent evidence, seems so obviously to have been invented by the Soviet Government and which within a few days led to war through the successive stages of the demand on the 26th November for the withdrawal of Finnish troops from the frontier near Leningrad, the denunciation by the Soviet Government of the Soviet-Finnish Non-Aggression Pact on the 28th November and the severance of diplomatic relations on the 29th November.
4. The only reasonable explanation that can be offered for this sudden and unprovoked attack on Finland is that the failure of the campaign of threats and intimidation was, according to reports reaching the Kremlin, greatly damaging to the prestige of this country, that the prestige of M. Stalin himself was involved (I understand that he attended almost all the meetings during the negotiations), and that it was only by taking forcible action that the Soviet face could be saved and the way prepared for further aggression in other quarters. It was a decision, I feel sure, that was taken with reluctance, not from any desire to spare the Finnish people, but because it is at variance with the cautious policy hitherto pursued by this country. As I have reported in my telegram No. 503 of the 6th December, the Soviet action may, as believed by the Bulgarian Minister, well mark a turning-point in the history of this country and of M. Stalin's régime, since the barefaced fashion in which a puppet Finnish Government was set up
on the 1st December behind the Soviet lines must work to draw together possible future victims of such tactics.
5. Meanwhile, the terms of the treaty between this country and its puppet
Government in Finland, whose head is a notorious Comintern official who has
lived for the past twenty years in this country and is believed latterly to have been in disgrace, and the brusque treatment of President Roosevelt's appeal and of the Swedish mediatory action, would seem to show that the Soviet Government intend to carry hostilities to what must, I fear, be their inevitable conclusion.
6. I have already furnished your Lordship by telegram with full summaries
of all the exchanges of notes which have taken place between the Soviet and
Finnish Governments since the Soviet note of the 26th November requesting
the withdrawal of Finnish troops from the frontier, and of all the relevant
communiqués. Full translations of these communications will be furnished as
soon as they appear in the Moscow News.
I have, &c.
Source: British Documents on Foreign Affairs. Reports and papers from the Foreign Office confidential print. Part III. Series A (The Soviet Union and Finland.). Volume 2, document nr. 255. University Publications of America, 1997.
Finland in Great Power politics, 1939-1940