Like the Finns in 1939, Ukraine proved Russians can be stopped


Like Stalin, like Putin.

If you want to understand Putin’s unprovoked, empire-reaching, fantastical, barbaric and inhuman assault on Ukraine, look back 84 years to Josef Stalin’s assault on Finland in the winter of 1939-1940.

Stalin’s brutal invasion of its peaceful neighbor Finland was marked by the same Russian military incompetence, disregard for human life and raw use of its size and power.

As with Putin’s grievous strategic failure in the early stages of his invasion of Ukraine a year ago, the Russian troops paid a horrendous price in 1939 for the lack of training, logistical support, for food and ammunition and underestimating the harsh winter.

The Finns, with a tiny population of 4 million, outfought the Russians magnificently in the early stages of the short “Winter War.” Dressed in white camouflage and mounted on skis, the Finnish warriors and generals used stealth attacks to decimate the initial Russian assaults.

In the communist ideology, the state is the center of everything and individual human life is a footnote. Soldiers are cannon fodder. There is no Bill of Rights to protect individual citizens.

In that war, they were conscripted, poorly trained for only a basic level of fighting, under clothed in summer uniforms, and armed with out-of-date weaponry.

I just finished consulting three histories of that heroic, but brief war fought by the Finns, and the losses by the Russians were as appalling in 1939-40 as they have been in Ukraine over the last twelve months.

Historians put the Russian losses in the Winter War at 200,000 killed in only three months and many more wounded. The Finns lost an estimated 25,000 dead and 44,000 wounded. That computes to each Russian soldier killing eight of his opponents. One Finnish sniper killed 500 of the enemy.

In a later book former Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev, estimated that 1 million Russian lives were lost. “A victory at such a cost was actually a moral defeat,” he wrote.

Similarly, in the first twelve months of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russians have lost an estimated 200,000 men and many more wounded. The numbers reported on both sides must be judged separately, because propagandists certainly play with the numbers. Nonetheless, the Ukrainians admit having lost as many as 13,000 soldiers, and more than 7,000 civilians have been killed by Russian bombs.

History is repeating itself as the trained, fierce and ingenious Ukrainian troops have outfought and outmaneuvered the Russian regulars and recently conscripted soldiers. The Ukrainians are passionately defending their homeland, while the Russian soldiers wonder what the hell they are doing in the middle of Ukraine in a killer winter.

In the end 84 years ago, Stalin sent 12 divisions into Finland to salvage a semblance of victory. The estimated number that Stalin sent to the war was about 500,000.

That brings us to the present tense. Putin, who is facing criticism at home for his inept invasion, even though he has killed off or jailed most his critics, is massing several hundred thousand troops on the Ukrainian border for a fresh offensive on the anniversary of his February 24, 2022 assault. He pushes on because he knows that further failure in Ukraine will loosen his grip on power after 20 years as a dictator.

In February 1940, the Finnish defense of their country collapsed when the leaders of the exhausted Finnish army realized that possible Allied support from Europe, America, and Sweden was not forthcoming. The Finns struck a truce with Stalin that resulted in the loss of about 10% of Finnish lands, particularly in the Karelian Isthmus. The Russians laughably considered that territory to be a threat to nearby Leningrad, now St. Petersburg.

Some 420,000 Finns in the ceded area chose to become refugees and left for the remaining parts of Finland. They wanted no life under Russian dictatorship.

What’s the moral of this well-documented piece of history? It’s that the tough Ukrainians did not only stymie Putin’s advances into their democratic country like the Finns did; they can actually win if their allies remain constant in their military support.

That is what’s happening. The U.S. Congress, in a rare show of bipartisan strategic thinking and commitment, has not only held firm on their commitment to Ukraine, they have upped their pledge to send Abrams tanks, sophisticated air defense systems, including Patriot missiles, surface-to-surface missiles that carry warheads 80 miles, double the range of Russian artillery, along with mountains of more ammunition.

Putin has been waiting for the Western Alliance to fall apart. Just the opposite is happening. The NATO Alliance is performing exactly as it was set up to perform for European defense after the end of WWII.

There was some wavering on the right-wing of the Republican Party early in the Ukrainian war, but those congressional voices appear to have fallen in line with a pro-democracy and anti-autocrat war against Putin. There is little left of the soft-on-Putin rhetoric that started with former President Trump. Even he has gone silent on his support of Putin.

Many of the new weapons pledged by France, Germany, England, Estonia, Sweden, Poland and other allies will not arrive in time to blunt Putin’s renewed offensive this spring, but the Ukrainians, knowing it’s on the way, can be counted on to kill a lot more Russians and blunt the offensive with the weapons they have already been provided.

Long ago the Finns proved that outnumbered troops could hold the line even if it meant to death.

By his bombings and killings of civilians and destruction of their homes and infrastructure, Putin has shown that he has little confidence of success on the battlefield. He targets unarmed civilians with a hope and prayer that the Ukrainian population will succumb and opt for cessation of war. That’s not likely when the Ukrainian citizens know that more allied help with increasingly sophisticated weapons will arrive this year. The forthcoming weapons have to be a psychological boost.

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