FROM INTERVENTION TO MUNICH
Even as the "intervention" and the civil war proceeded within Russia, the victors of the First World War gathered for the Versailles Peace Conference to draw up a settlement and a program that would, presumably, once and for all time put an end to war. Needless to say, representatives from the Soviet regime, against which the victors (Great Britain, France, Japan, United States, Italy, etc.) were waging and abetting war, were not invited. They were excluded form participation. Please remember that Russia --Tsarist Russia, but Russia, nevertheless had been an ally of the now victorious powers, had suffered the greatest casualties, and had fought until it was, in fact, no longer possible to continue the war.
Versailles Peace Conference
Many things happened at and as a result of that "peace conference." One of them as publicly stated by Georges Clemenceau, the French Premier, was the policy of creating a cordon sanitaire to protect Western Europe "from the germs of Bolshevism in the East." This meant, in addition to non-recognition of the Soviet government, the establishment of several anti-Russian and anti-Soviet countries along Soviet Russias western border. In practice this brought about the establishment or the recognition and support of states such as Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and an enlarged Poland, as well as Rumanias seizure and occupation of Bessarabia.
Now, it is impossible to dispute the essential right that the peoples of Finland, Poland and the Baltic peoples to have to countries and governments of their own and of their own choosing, a right they share with all people, regardless of who is currently violating it. The question here deals with the great power cynicism and the anti-Soviet, anti-Bolshevik, bias that motivated this decision. All told, nine new independent European states came into existence as a result of the First World War and of the Conference which followed it. In addition, great amounts of territory were transferred from one country to another. And from all of these decisions, these "acts of statesmanship," representatives from the new government of Russia were excluded.
Some additional comments in regard to Poland must be made at this point. With the creation of an independent Poland, from out of the destroyed east European empires of Germany, Austro-Hungary, and Russia, the establishment of the new countrys borders became an issue of paramount importance. A British diplomat and geographer of sorts, Lord Curzon, attempted to separate that part of Eastern Europe that was predominantly Russian from the part that was predominantly Polish. The line of separation was called, fittingly enough, the "Curzon Line."
But, during the Russian Civil War, with the Bolshevik regime engaged in battle on several fronts, Polish armies invaded Russia, striking deep into western Russia and into the Ukraine, taking and holding Kiev for a short time. A Red Army counter-attack drove the Polish invaders from Russian soil and rolled into Poland almost to the gates of Warsaw itself. Gaining assistance from France, the Poles stopped the Russian advance, turned it around, and then pushed the Russians eastward once again. Eventually, the war came to a standstill, neither side able to budge the other. The outcome of this war, the Soviet-Polish War of 1920, was the extension of Poland many miles to the east of the original Polish-Soviet border, to the east of the "Curzon Line" meaning, the inclusion in Poland of several millions of Belorussians and Ukrainians.
Neither in the actual war itself, nor at the Peace Treaty of Riga in 1921 that officially ended that war and delineated the new Soviet-Polish border, was the Soviet government strong enough to defend itself or the interests of the various Russian peoples being subjected to Polish rule. Clearly, however, the Soviet government would not always be so weak, and then its turn would come.
In addition to Russian territory and various Russian peoples, the Polish goose also stuffed itself with Vilna, the ancient capital of the once independent Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Now, that Lithuania was again independent, its government as well as its people demanded the restoration of its historic capital. Poland, upon its independence and war upon Soviet Russia, had seized and occupied Vilna. Putting forth its own historical claims to that city, the new Polish regime steadfastly refused to surrender the Lithuanian City to its much smaller and weaker neighbor.
And then there was the problem with Czechoslovakia, another creation of the aftermath of the First World War and the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A portion of the newly established Czechoslovakia was coveted by Poland; the "Teschen problem," and the resulting inability to resolve this dispute added the Czechs to the list of Russia and Lithuania to whom Poland stood opposed.
This lengthy, but necessary, digression is regard to Poland goes far to explain much of the misunderstanding and disagreement between the Soviet Union and the United States concerning the "Polish Question" at the conclusion of the Second World War. For example, when Hitlers armies rolled into Poland in September, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded from the east. The Polish territory seized by Russia, later lost to the Germans, and later again recaptured by the Red Army, was not inhabited by Poles. The "Polish Lands" occupied and held by Stalin at the end of the Second World War an occupation vigorously opposed by the British and American governments, particularly by President Harry Truman were lands overwhelmingly inhabited by Russians of one sort or the other. And the record was quite clear as to how they became "Polish" in the first place.
In 1921, the United States, under the direction of President Hardings Secretary of State, Charles E. Hughes, hosted the Washington Armament Conference. This conference was called to discuss and settle certain problems of international concern, in particular various Far Eastern questions, and to attempt the limitation of the navies of the world. Again the Soviet Union was deliberately excluded. Portugal and even little Belgium were invited to attend, but not the largest country in the world, one that existed in Asia as well as in Europe.
Of course, of much more significance than the exclusion from participation in the Washington Conference was the denial of membership to Soviet Russia in the League of Nations. The League had been organized at the Versailles Peace Conference, and in particular from the efforts of the American president, Woodrow Wilson. In general, the stated purposes of the League included the supervision and the enforcement of the Peace Settlement, and the prevention of any new international problems from reaching serious and dangerous proportions. Hopefully, this would prevent future wars from occurring. Where this most laudable, publicly avowed goal broke down was in the practice, in the implementation, beginning with the exclusion and attempted isolation of the Soviet Union.
All too often, the publicly expressed fears of the Soviet rulers of Capitalist hostility and encirclement were carelessly dismissed outside of the Soviet Union as examples of Communist propaganda, or as symptoms of a more traditional Russian paranoia. Often, no doubt, this was true; too often, however, there has been as much fire as there has been smoke.
The governments and the newspapers of the capitalist countries continued to fabricate and distort the news about Soviet Russia, though the truth itself would have sufficed. But in the late 1920s and the early 1930s, more and more of those governments found it necessary to recognize the Soviet regime and even begin trading with it. However, it was not until 1934, when with the urging and support of France, that the U.S.S.R. became a member of the League of Nations, finally gaining international recognition of its legitimacy.
Fear of Germany
The French government, always fearful of a resurgent Germany, in the years following the peace settlement at Versailles, had hoped to keep Germany surrounded by countries allied to itself. France and Czechoslovakia were allied in an anti-German mutual defense pact, pledging each to come to the assistance of the other in the event of German aggression. Poland had been expected to play an even more important role in the containment of Germany but Poland viewed the world differently.
The Poles logically assumed that both the Russians and the Lithuanians viewed their continual occupation of Vilna and other "undigested" lands east of Curzon Line with latent hostility. They were, no doubt, correct in this view. In addition, there was the known Polish design upon Teschen, resulting in Czech apprehension and hostility. Lastly, there is the ancient and historic Polish view of its mission in Eastern Europe. From time immemorial, the Poles considered themselves to be the outpost of both Catholic and Western Civilization, beyond which lived the barbarians and the heretics the Orthodox Christians. Long before the advent of Bolshevism, of Marxism even, a Polish adage stated, "To the Germans, we may lose our land; to the Russians, we would lose our souls."
The unsympathetic reader of all this might conclude, "as it turned out, they lost both." And be remindd of the even older adage: "Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad." Be that as it may, Poland felt required to draw closer and closer to Germany, as an ally to counter her isolation in the East. And the rise of Hitler did little to dissuade the Polish government from its course.
The policy of the government of France was a fair reflection of European realities as viewed from Paris. Germany has been Frances immediate enemy on the continent of Europe since either keeping Germany diplomatically isolated, or at the very least, constantly confronted with the prospects of a two-front war in the event of a Franco-German conflict. By the 1930s this policy, relying primarily upon Poland to Germanys east, had obviously failed. And with Germany re-arming and moving in the direction of a German hegemony in Europe, France sought to involve the Soviet Union in an anti-German defense alliance.
This period of the 1930s was also the period of the "popular front," the Soviet and Communist policy of differentiating between "good capitalists" and "bad capitalists," between anti-fascists and fascists. Communists throughout the world were urged to support anti-fascist governments and movements even though they might be capitalistic. For reasons of national interest, the Soviet regime, in the person of Josef Stalin, decided that the most immediate threat to the U.S.S.R. came from Japan and Germany; thus Stalin went shopping for allies just about the time France, Great Britain, and the United States did. They almost "got it together."
The Soviet Union joined the League of Nations in 1934. In the following year, and through the urging of France, the Czechs and Russia entered into a mutual defense pact. Remember, France and the Czechs already were officially allied against German aggression; that is, if Germany attacked either one, the other would attack Germany. In addition, the act of German aggression had to be officially designated as such by the League of Nations, thereby, presumably, preventing either the French or the Czechs from themselves precipitating a conflict with Germany.
To this Franco-Czech defense system was now added the Soviet Union, to come to the assistance of Czechoslovakia if the following conditions are fulfilled: 1. Germany must attack Czechoslovakia; 2. German aggression must be labeled aggression by the League of Nations; and 3. France must live up to its prior treaty obligation and also come to Czechoslovakias assistance.
It was complicated, but the complications served several purposes. First, the Russians did not want to get "sucked into" a war in the event of French or Czech aggression against Germany, thus the Germans had to be officially declared the instigators. Second, the Czechs and the Russians both wanted the French to be involved: the Czechs feared the Russian assistance if not countered by a French presence, and the Russians did not want to have to fight Germany unless Germany was also confronted with an assault upon the its western front.
In other words, while all three participants feared Germany and were willing to take diplomatic steps to defend themselves against German aggression, Soviet Russia neither fully trusted her partners, nor was she fully trusted in return by them. In international relations, as in interpersonal, trust must apparently be carefully cultivated and occasionally tested before it becomes a concrete reality.
The tests came. From 1935 onwards, a series of aggressions took place: the Japanese invasion and conquest of Manchuria; the Italian invasion and conquest of Ethiopia; the German and Italian involvement in the Spanish Civil War all demonstrated that neither the League of Nations, nor the "western democracies" in general, including the United States, were willing to take a principled stand, as long as the aggression did not touch their personal, private and special interests.
In each of these episodes, only the Soviet Union indicated a willingness to act; and in the case of the Spanish Civil War, the Soviets did in fact take specific actions, sending men and materials to the Loyalist government. The "western democracies" wrung their hands and publicly shed copious amounts of tears; but the truth was that neither the United States, Great Britain, nor France were willing to put the Soviet Unions offer of collective action to the test. Even in the matter of a suggested economic boycott against Italy, when that country launched its invasion of Ethiopia, the United States proved to be the major obstacle. Great Britain was not willing to stop oil deliveries to Italy unless the United States would do the same, and the Untied States would not agree. In fact, American oil exports to Italy, to Italian Fascism and the Italian war machine, rose 600 percent because of the Ethiopian war.
Of course there are those who argue that what other countries do with the products we sell them is no business of ours. The 1930s were, after all, years of Depression, of unemployment, of growing social unrest in the United States; and any business is good business. Perhaps, but there are also those who argue that the American business system can only survive, prosper and grow by feeding upon the misery, poverty and suffering of others in the world community. The selling of arms, petroleum or other products to governments engaged in acts of hostility against their neighbors is a wanton disregard of a most elemental moral responsibility that no government may be guilty of without absolving its citizens of their obligation of support. And perhaps that is true also.
The country of Czechoslovakia was another outcome of the First World War and specifically the destruction of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. It comprised an area composed of Germans, Czechs, Slovaks, Ruthenians, Hungarians, and other, less numerous, peoples. The Czechs and the Slovaks constituted the majority, and the Czechs, in fact, ran the country. Throughout central and Eastern Europe, in the years between the two World Wars, only the little country of Czechoslovakia approximated the "western" idea of democratic republic; however, even here, both democracy and representative government seemed to be restricted to those of the Czech majority. It was, in the main, a government of the Czechs, by the Czechs, and primarily for the Czechs.
The Sudetenland, the westernmost triangular portion of Czechoslovakia and inhabited by over three million Germans, jutted into and was surrounded by Hitlers Germany, which by 1938 also included Austria. The championing of the Sudeten Germans and the demand for the cession of ther Sudetenland itself was a politically popular cause for Hitler in his struggle to fasten his control upon Germany even stronger, and it was also part of his general, foreign policy of extending the frontiers of "the New Reich" eastward into Eastern Europe.
The Sudetenland, inhabited though it was by elements unfriendly to the Czech government, provided Czechoslovakia with a rugged and mountainous frontier, separating her from Germany. The Czech army was small compared to Germany's but it was composed primarily of Czechs fiercely loyal to the government. It was also well
entrenched in fortified defensive positions and armed with the most modern automatic and anti-tank weapons available to any army. A direct German attack through those mountains would be most costly to the invaders, and it might have just failed. However, without the mountains of the Sudetenland to protect them, the rest of Czechoslovakia lay wide open to a motorized enemy.
To the conference in the German city of Munich, in the autumn of 1938, came Adolph Hitler and his promise that this was his last territorial demand in Europe. Also to Munich, came the heads of the governments of Great Britain, France, and Italy. Curiously enough, neither Czechoslovakia nor Soviet Russia was invited to participate. President Benes, the President of the country whose fate was being decided by the conference between the fascists and the capitalists, was required to "sit in the hall" outside of the conference room. With him, "in the hall," sat the Soviet Foreign Minister, who was also deliberately excluded from participation.
Americans generally understand that at Munich the country of Czechoslovakia was sacrificed for "peace in our times," as the British Prime Minister justified the arrangement. What Americans do not generally know is that the Soviet government offered to provide military assistance to the Czechs if they, in the person of President Benes, chose to fight.
Great Britain and France, an ally of both Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, acquiesced to Hitlers demand for the Sudetenland; in so doing they refused to consult with either the country being sacrificed, or with Soviet Russia. According to the very eminent British military historian, the late Liddell Hart, in his History of the Second World War, the British and the French both understood that Hitlers 1938 demands upon Czechoslovakia were part of his overall design upon eastern Europe, including apparently the Soviet Union. Both Great Britain and France, as indicated by Hart, refused offers by the Russians to join in a defense of Czechoslovakia.
Rebuffed by the two western and capitalist "democracies," the Soviet Union made a definite offer of military assistance to the Czechs. In fact, Russian dive-bombers were sent into eastern Slovakia, and the Rumanian government, after the predictable refusal of the Poles, was pressured to grant to the Russians the right of transit through their country for additional Russian military assistance. But the Czech president refused this offer. Deserted by his French ally and by Great Britain a country historically notorious for its unwillingness to jeopardize its special and imperial interests for the "causes" of others, Benes chose not to resist Germany.
The Czech army was willing to fight. Indeed, the Czech general staff urged Benes to resist. However, Benes capitulation, and the subsequent withdrawal of the Czech army from its fortified positions in the mountains of the Sudetenland, opened the entire country to eventual German occupation. Shortly after the Munich Conference and Benes decision not to resist, Germany simply absorbed the entire country into its growing "new order" for Eastern Europe. Not to miss their respective opportunities, Poland and Hungary with the approval of Hitler also assaulted Czechoslovakia, seizing areas along the border of their now defenseless neighbor.
At the conclusion of the Second World War, Liddell Hart interviewed several of the leading German Generals. In the resulting book, The German Generals Speak, he indicates that the German General Staff was most reluctant to support Hitler in 1938, but that as long as he continued to be politically and diplomatically successful, they could not muster sufficient domestic support for a move to remove his power. The Munich crisis, in their opinion, almost gave them their opportunity. According to the interviewed generals, had the Czechs stood firm, had they defended the approaches through the Sudetenland, the German army would have suffered a signal disaster. Even without Soviet military assistance, even without Russian men and equipment, the great cost in German life would have critically undermined Hitlers hold upon the German people. At that point, these generals told Hart, a successful coup would have been staged and Hitler would have been through.
When Great Britain and France backed down in the face of Hitlers threats, and then when the Czech government also capitulated, Hitlers prestige rose too high to be challenged. In other words, had the British and French stood by Czechoslovakia, had they accepted the offer of Soviet military cooperation, that would have been, in all probability, the end of Hitler. Even if the Czechs, alone or with Russian assistance, had fought, it may well have been enough to topple the Hitler regime. But Hitlers continual diplomatic successes throughout the latter 1930s, crowned by his triumph at Munich and the subsequent acquisition of Czechoslovakia, according to the German generals, conditioned the German people to believe that Hitler was invincible. And that made them willing to follow him anywhere.
From Benes point of view, his actions were somewhat understandable. Without the diplomatic and military support of Great Britain and France, a Czech stand would no doubt have meant an armed conflict with Germany. Even with the assistance of the Russian, even if the Germans were in fact stopped in the mountains of the Sudetenland, the war would be bloody and destructive. While the German army might become bogged down in the mountain passes, the German air force, against which the Czechs had no sure defense, would certainly strike repeatedly at the Czech capital of Prague. And that, many historians believe the salvation of the ancient and historic capital of Bohemia explains Benes actions in 1938. Invaders and armies of occupation come and go in this world, but once a historic city is destroyed, it is destroyed for all time.
For many people, particularly Americans, this attitude is often difficult to understand. After all, how many five hundred-year-old cities do we have? In truth, we do not much care about our cities in any case, and of any age. We measure our rather limited achievement age. We measure our rather limited achievement age. We measure our rather limited achievement in urban reform and renewal not by the number of old buildings saved, but by the number of new ones built to replace the old. Even the French, remember, chose not to fight for Paris, declaring it an "open city," rather than use it to assist in holding back the German onslaught in the Second World War.
Prague was saved, and while the preservation of that city may have come at the expense of the millions of people who later perished as a result of the Second World War, the guilt lies not, I think, solely with President Benes. When diplomacy might have guaranteed the continued existence of Czechoslovakia, the diplomats of Great Britain and France decided to seek an accommodation to Hitlers desire for "living space" in Eastern Europe. The Czech government and the people of Czechoslovakia subsequently made their own accommodation. And Prague, after all, continues to live; and that, I suppose, is one of the things a Czech government ought to be about.
Preparations for War
As a result of the Munich obscenity, the Soviet Union apparently responded with a policy best characterized by a statement used by Franklin Roosevelt in another context, that is, "a plague on both of your houses." The two kinds of capitalists, fascists and non-fascists, were once again lumped together in the official Soviet mind.
Think of how it might have all looked to Josef Stalin, a man never accused of either breadth of vision, nor of subtlety of perception. First, there had been the exclusion from Versailles, accompanying the intervention in the Russian Civil War. Then came the attempted diplomatic isolation and verbal harassment of the 1920s and early 1930s. For a time, in the mid 1930s there was the flirtation with the notions of collective security and popular fronts against fascism in general and against Germany, Italy, and Japan in particular. And while events in Manchuria, Ethiopia and Spain seriously undermined that hope, then came Munich, and the apparent willingness of the non-fascist capitalists to allow Germany to expand eastward. Many of the more traditional and orthodox American historians attempt to describe Stalins diplomacy from the point of view of his alleged paranoia. Paranoia, as I understand it, is an unreasonable fear of the hostility of others. Now Josef Stalin was undoubtedly guilty of many things, innumerable crimes included, but "an unreasonable fear of the hostility of others" was not one of them.
Again, as most Americans know, Josef Stalin and Adolph Hitler concluded, through their representatives, a mutual non-aggression pact in 1939. This Soviet-German non-aggression pact finally shattered the complacency of the non-fascist capitalist world. However, for entering into this pact, Stalin, the Soviet Union, and Communists generally, were vigorously denounced in all of those countries and by all of those governments which had either just sold out Czechoslovakia, or which had simply stood by, their clean hands still dripping from the soap and water. Very strange, very hypocritical, and yet, in a way, it was all so sickeningly typical.
What most people did not know then though their governments certainly did, and what most people do not know as yet, is that the Soviet union made two last attempts to arrange some sort of anti-German alliance. Soviet offers to Poland were again rejected; and offers and negotiations with Great Britain were deliberately stalled by the British government which was still more anti-Russian and anti-Communist than it was anti-German and anti-fascist. It was only after the failure of these attempts became apparent, that the Soviet government picked up the offer originating from Berlin.
The Polish Question
Another charge often laid at the Kremlin gate is that the Soviet Union joined Germany in the attack upon Poland in September, 1939. According to secret provisions of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, the Soviet Union was entitled to recover that eastern portion of Poland seized from Russia during the Civil War period of 1920 -1921; that is, remember, an area inhabited primarily by Russians of one kind or another (Belo-Russians in the north; Ukrainians in the south) and forcibly separated from the rest of Russia by Poland almost 20 years earlier.
The German offensive against Poland was so successful, and the movement of the German armies across Poland was so rapid, that Stalin feared that these lands might just fall to the Germans, and then be really lost for some time to come. Consequently, the Red Army moved against Poland from the east, seizing and occupying the allotted territory, an area, remember, inhabited primarily by Russians.
During the Second World War, with the Polish government in exile in London, this area and its post-war ownership was regularly contested. Neither the Polish government, nor the government of Soviet Russia, was willing to budge. Poland, obviously, possessed the weakest claim. Unfortunately, the United States government, specifically the Democratic administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, feared the alienation of the Polish-American vote the truth might bring. Consequently, the American people were not informed as to the legitimacy of the Soviet claim, and Stalins insistence therefore appeared to many as proof of Russian, and Communist, perfidy.
Stalin realized that war with Germany was more than a distinct possibility. And political, diplomatic, and military steps were accordingly taken. This essay is not the place to detail the internal policies affected by the Soviet regime to prepare for war. However, Soviet diplomatic and military actions especially as they relate to additional antagonism between the "democracies" and the Soviet Union warrant consideration.
The Baltic Republics
After the fall and division of Poland, but with Germany and France making no move toward each other on the Western Front, the Soviet government pressured the three Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into joining her in mutual assistance pacts. In addition, Moscow demanded and received permission for the establishment of Soviet bases on their territory manned by the Red Army. Nine months later, in June, 1940, the Soviet Army completely occupied the three republics, which were then incorporated into the U.S.S.R. as union republics an incorporation which the United States, among others, still does not recognize.
The three Baltic republics came into existence as a result of the "wests" desire to corridor Bolshevik Russia off from the rest of Europe. Had the governments of these three countries not encouraged German contacts in early 1940, and had Lithuania not in fact invited German troops into that country in the summer of 1940, the Soviet Union might not have reacted as it did. Clearly, however, the U.S.S.R. was not willing to tolerate the continued independence of the Baltic republics if that independence might be used as a threat to her security.
I do not for a minute believe that the mass of people in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania welcomed their incorporation in the Soviet Union. I continue to doubt that these people are happy with the arrangement. But I also feel that the very moralistic protestations by British and American governments, both of which have regularly and forcibly incorporated areas and peoples into their respective empires, is anther manifestation of the double standard by which we have been too often blinded in the past.
The Finish War
The Soviet Union went to war against Finland in the winter of 1939. The remarkable and most heroic defense put up by the Finns brought them the respect and admiration of people throughout the world. The initially poor showing of the Red Army even led many to believe that Finland might be victorious. The Finnish defenses were finally broken in the spring of 1940, and the entire country lay open to the Red Army.
Great Britain and France, already officially at war with Germany, discussed plans for another intervention in Russia. The British, deceived by the initial failure to break through the Finns Mannerheim Line and believing in the possibility of Finnish victory, sought to send six English divisions through Sweden. Some authorities believe that Swedens refusal to permit transit to the English, followed by the sudden collapse of the Finnish defense, prevented the actual outbreak of hostilities between the "West" and the U.S.S.R.
For her "Winter War" upon Finland, the Soviet Union was expelled from the League of Nations a practically defunct organization by the end of 1939, becoming the only country in that organizations dubious history to be so treated. It has never failed to amaze this writer, with all of the aggression and hostile actions of the 1920s and 1930s, not to mention the regular and traditional imperialist policies of the great power members of the League during those 20 years, that the Soviet Union was the one country singled out for the distinction of expulsion.
Contrary to public misconceptions then, as well as now, the Soviet Unions war upon Finland was not part of the Communist desire to overrun Europe or to subjugate people against their will to Marxist-Leninism. Beginning in the spring of 1938, the Soviet government attempted to negotiate a border alteration with the former province of the Tsarist Empire. The Finnish frontier with the Soviet Union lay within artillery range of the city of Leningrad, the second most important city in the U.S.S.R., as well as the Baltic-White Sea canal, a transportation artery of immense economic and strategic importance.
The Soviets demanded that Finland pull back some 20 miles, in return for which Russia was willing to grant an area to the north many times that size. Finland refused for a whole host of reasons, one of the more important being that within that disputed area lay the Mannerheim fortifications. That refusal brought a Soviet attack, and eventual defeat; and as a result of that defeat, the Finns were required to cede a much greater amount of territory, thought they preserved their independence.
The Russians could have overrun Finland in 1940; they could also have done it during the Second World War, as the Germans were forced to retreat. Finland, remember, joined Germany in the great invasion of Soviet Russia. Finnish troops participated in the siege of Leningrad. Obviously, the Russians did not want Finland in 1940; equally obvious, they do not want that country today. What they did, and do, want apparently is a government not overtly hostile to them on their border.
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