German Minister in Estonia to the German Foreign Ministry
Tallinn, January 19, 1940
Received January 25. Pol. VI 247.
Subject: The Russo-Finnish conflict.
During a social function at the Legation the day before yesterday I had an opportunity for a long confidential conversation with the Commander in Chief, General Laidoner. The General, who, as is
known, also wields a certain influence outside military circles in Estonia, especially in questions of foreign policy, expressed himself very frankly concerning the observations which he had made during his visit to Moscow in the middle of December. According to his statements he met with Stalin four or five times and had several very long conversations with him in which, understandably enough, the Russo-Finnish conflict played a considerable role.
The General explained that he had on the whole gained the impression from Stalin's statements that the latter was not actually striving to incorporate Finland into the territory of the Soviet Union. Rather he evidently intended, as in the case of the Baltic countries, to content himself with obtaining certain strategic spots and clarifying Soviet-Finnish relations to the end that Finland could not align herself with the enemies of the Soviet Union. He evidently considered this solution adequate and more advantageous for the over-all interests of the Union than incorporation.
With reference to certain reports known also to the Foreign Ministry according to which the Soviet Russian military commander for the Leningrad district had brought on the conflict arbitrarily
and really contrary to the wishes of the Moscow central authority, the General stated that in so far as he knew this was not correct. He thought it was true, however, that Zhdanov, the Party Secretary for the Leningrad district, had striven in his reporting to induce the Moscow central authority to sharpen the conflict; this had then led to the outbreak of hostilities. To his knowledge Zhdanov had disappeared
from the scene some time ago ; it was possible that he had fallen into disfavor because of the turn events had taken and had been withdrawn from his post. The Soviet Government had in fact obviously misjudged the situation regarding Finland and the prospects for the Soviet offensive at the beginning of December, and it was possible that Kuusinen's reports on internal conditions in Finland might have played a certain role in this.
Nevertheless it was clear that now, once she had started, the Soviet Union had to continue her campaign if only for prestige reasons; she would not permit herself to be diverted by the setbacks which the Russian troops had suffered at the hands of the Finns. In their extreme sentimental leaning toward the Scandinavian-British orientation, the Finns had to a considerable extent lost sight of actual realities and for their part, too, underestimated the Russians. At first it had been believed that the latter were not actually in earnest; this turned out to be an illusion. It now seemed that Finland was placing great hopes in the Geneva resolution of the League of Nations, the declarations of sympathy by many countries, prominent among them England and France, and the occasional support in the form of gifts, volunteers, etc.; these, too, would turn out to be illusory. Finland would not receive any really effective aid in the form of troops from other countries in spite of all the declarations of sympathy; on the contrary, she would be left to her own devices, as had been the lot of Poland. Finland was merely another example of how for all practical purposes the hardly comprehensible nimbus which still enveloped
England in spite of all past experience continued to delude some countries even now.
As for putting an end to the conflict, the General believed that an amicable agreement between the parties was altogether possible even now. Finland herself had indicated that she was ready to negotiate. To be sure. Foreign Minister Tanner had simultaneously made the mistake of again offending the exceptionally sensitive and resentful Soviet Russians by polemic statements, so that it was doubtful
whether any accord could ever be reached involving this man, who was particularly disliked by the Soviet Russians. Nor would the Soviet Union, in his opinion, be disinclined to reach a compromise agreement with Finland, though perhaps not precisely at the present moment, when the Red Army had just suffered setbacks for which Soviet Russia's prestige required compensation. He thought the psychological moment might come very soon, however, The General did not consider Kuusinen's government any real obstacle, for
he believed that Stalin would abandon Kuusinen without hesitation if he thought this conducive to a solution appearing acceptable to the Russians, since Kuusinen was merely a pawn to Stalin, not a real
One incident which the General told about his Moscow visit might also be mentioned : At one of the dinners in Moscow, some of which took a very long time and during which in Russian fashion many
speeches were made, Stalin had said to the General at a late hour that he would now drink a toast that would astonish some of the guests and might not meet the approval of all. Then Stalin had risen and had
raised his glass "to the independence and national People's Government of Finland."
Of the General's further statements during the conversation one other remark on the causes of the war is of interest. The General stated that during his visit to Warsaw in March 1939 he had had the
unmistakable impresssion that Beck and several of the men close to him had fully realized the imminent danger to Poland and had been inclined to accept the Führer's offers. The great majority of the Poles, however, had been practically out of their minds and bereft of reason because of the British guarantee. The feeling that nothing could happen to them now had been so overwhelming that Beck had no longer been able to put through his real intentions at all. The General had heard that Beck had even been told by one of the leading military men, probably General Kaprecinski, that he would risk
physical annihilation if he continued his trend toward reconciliation.
Source: Documents on German foreign policy 1918-1945. Series D. Volume VIII. No. 556. Washington, Department of State, publication 5436, 1954.