On November 30, Russia’s Embassy in South Africa posted a tweet commemorating the anniversary of the 1939 war between the Soviet Union and Finland, commonly known as the “Winter War.”
That conflict took place after the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop nonaggression pact on August 23, 1939. The pact included a secret protocol to divide Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of interest.
German forces then invaded Poland from the west on September 1, 1939, and Soviet forces invaded Poland from the east on September 17, 1939.
Led by dictator Josef Stalin, the Soviet Union turned its attention to other countries along its border, including the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia – as well as Finland. The Soviets demanded territory and naval basing rights from Finland in exchange for land in neighboring Soviet Karelia. When Finland refused, the Soviet Union used a fabricated artillery shelling incident as a pretext to invade.
Things didn’t go as planned. The Winter War was initially a disaster for the untested Red Army, which suffered more than 300,000 casualties in the three-month conflict.
Yet, the Russian Embassy’s tweet presented a completely different narrative:
“82 years ago the USSR-Finland 'Winter War' started fueled by territorial disputes amid forthcoming #WW2 and Third Reich’s enhancing military cooperation with #Finland. Why was Finland viewed by USSR as Hitler’s probable ally? “
That rewrite of history is false.
In fact, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were at the time cooperating in accordance with their non-aggression pact. Germany also was providing the Soviet Union with crucial oil and raw materials under a trade agreement.
The tweet’s claim that Nazi Germany was “enhancing military cooperation” with Finland at the time is misleading.
Germany only began to improve relations with Finland after the Winter War ended, as it was gearing up for an attack on the Soviet Union (which took place on June 22, 1941). Germany maintained strict neutrality in the Winter War, and even prevented arms and anti-Soviet foreign volunteer fighters from crossing its territory.
Finland joined the Axis alliance after the Winter War, and participated in Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. The territory that Finnish forces managed to re-take was lost to Soviet counter-offensives in 1944.
Unlike many other countries that had allied with Nazi Germany and came under the Soviet sphere of influence after World War II, Finland was allowed to maintain its independence after it signed an agreement of neutrality with the Soviet Union.
In recent years, the Kremlin and its Foreign Ministry have become increasingly engaged in rewriting Second World War history to whitewash the Soviet Union’s initial collaboration with Nazi Germany and aggression against neighboring countries. In 2020, for example, Russian President Vladimir Putin caused a row with Poland when he implied that Poland and Western European powers were responsible for the outbreak World War II while the Soviet Union shared no guilt.