Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja: Paasikivi returned to Moscow

Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja: Paasikivi returned to Moscow

Address by Erkki Tuomioja, Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the Finnish Embassy in Moscow 7.2.2003

I have often marvelled at the foresight that Finland demonstrated in deciding to build such a large embassy building, including a residence that is still quite up to the demands of today, here in Moscow in the 1930s. Relations between our countries were cool and trade virtually nonexistent. All in all, there was very little interaction. The only significant exception was a visit to Moscow by foreign minister Rudolf Holsti in 1937, and it could not to alter the course of events, either.

The Finnish Legation was inaugurated on Independence Day, 6th December 1938. It was the first legation that Finland had built anywhere since becoming an independent state. It also happened to be Moscow’s first purpose-built embassy. The distinguished guests included the Commissar for Foreign Affairs Maxim Litvinov, who was resplendent in tails and attended by the Marshal of the Soviet Union Semyon Budyonnyi, in addition to Sergei Eisenstein, Sergei Prokofief and Alexei Tolstoi.

The Finnish Government was represented by the Minister for Communications and Public Works Väinö Salovaara, who was accompanied by his wife. She made copious diary entries during the trip and these tell us that the atmosphere in which the opening ceremony took place was “uniting and constructive”. Right up to the last moment, uncertainty about which Soviet guests would attend the function had prevailed, and there was a great sense of relief, and indeed even pride, when the delegation turned out to be of such a high level and exceptionally representative. Mrs. Salovaara’s diary further informs us that the festivities concluded with a ball, at which the Moscow Radio Orchestra provided the music and the guests enjoyed themselves into the small hours of the following morning.

The first master of the house, the former foreign minister Baron Aarno Yrjö-Koskinen, managed to spend only a year in his new official residence before the Winter War broke out. The building was left empty when Molotov refused to recognise Sweden as the protective power for Finland. When Swedish envoy Wilhelm Winther requested an audience with him, Molotov pointed out that the Soviet Union was not at war with Finland; after all, it had concluded a treaty of mutual assistance and friendship with the so-called People’s Government led by Otto Ville Kuusinen. It was not in vain that Finland’s soldiers served up “a cocktail for Mr. Molotov”, as the British press put it in reports from the Winter War, thereby immortalising the names of both the incendiary bottle bombs that the Finns used and Stalin’s faithful colleague.

The second master of the house was J.K. Paasikivi, a septuagenarian who had served as a member of the Imperial Senate (government) of Finland and later as Prime Minister. He was a retired bank director and had also been the Finnish envoy in Stockholm and a peace negotiator. He had negotiated a peace agreement with Soviet Russia in 1920 and conducted three rounds of fruitless talks with Stalin and Molotov in the autumn of 1939. After that he had served as a minister without portfolio in the Finnish Government during the Winter War.

It was only with reluctance that Paasikivi took up his post in Moscow. The task was difficult and exacting. His late-night negotiations with Molotov in the Kremlin made it clear to him that the Soviet Union regarded the job that the Red Army had been given as having remained unfinished in the Winter War. Writing in his diary, a depressed Paasikivi reflected on the mistakes that Finland had made: Should Finland have followed the example of Estonia, which had avoided war by giving in to the Soviet demands? Thoughts like those were finally dispelled when O.V. Kuusinen, the leader of the Karelian-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic, which had been created after the Winter War, proposed to the Supreme Soviet in August 1940 that “the gallant Estonian people be accepted into the Soviet family.”

Paasikivi, who had a lifelong interest in Russia and its language, literature and history, had never lived there except for a brief period of study in Novgorod in 1891. He had never visited the Soviet Union at all until the autumn of 1939.

There is a wealth of documented material and anecdotes about Paasikivi’s period of just over a year as envoy, and he also wrote about his time there in his memoirs. His most famous piece of advice to the Finnish Government was contained in a telegram he sent in autumn 1940 on the subject of demilitarisation of the Åland Islands: “I urge you to avoid going to excess with juridicism, because the Kremlin is no district court.” Paasikivi submitted his resignation as envoy in May 1941, just about a month before the outbreak of a new war. He was dissatisfied with the Government’s policy and did not want to be "even remotely connected with a policy that could lead to a new and final catastrophe.” The Government had kept him in the dark about preparations for military cooperation with Germany.

Paasikivi returned to Moscow for his next, and penultimate, visit in March 1944 in an effort to negotiate a separate peace agreement. The talks failed and peace was achieved only in September 1944, and without Paasikivi. Stalin agreed to a political solution after the Finnish Army had managed to stop a massive Red Army offensive on the Karelian Isthmus in July. The Soviet Union needed all the forces it could muster for the race to Berlin and the Red Army never occupied Finland.

After the war, it was onto Paasikivi’s shoulders that the burden of rebuilding relations with the Soviet Union fell. First he served as Prime Minister in 1944-46 and then succeeded Mannerheim as President from 1946 to 1956.

The determined Paasikivi declined Stalin’s invitation to visit him in January 1948, because he anticipated what the Generalissimo wanted, namely a military alliance type of treaty of friendship along the same lines as the ones the Soviet Union later concluded with Romania and Hungary. Paasikivi was not prepared for that, because Finland had achieved her goal by signing a peace treaty in Paris in February 1947. When Paasikivi received a letter about the matter from Stalin in February 1948, the situation in world politics had changed. The coup in Prague and the breach with Tito’s Yugoslavia made it more difficult for the Soviet Union to pressure Finland into signing a treaty of alliance similar to the ones concluded with Romania and Hungary. At the signing ceremony for the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance in Moscow in April 1948, the chief negotiator Urho Kekkonen daringly characterised the final outcome to Stalin as “Paasikivi’s diktat”, a quip which drew a kindly smile from the Generalissimo.

In his radio address to the Finnish people in April 1948 Paasikivi summed up Finland’s goal in these words: “And let us hope that our country and our territory will in the future be spared an attack by any enemies of the Soviet Union. ... Then the military provisions of the treaty will not be exercised, and that would be the best outcome from the point of view of both Finland and everyone else as well.” A new treaty on neighbourly relations between Finland and Russia was signed in January 1992. Before that, in September 1990, Finland had released herself from the peace treaty’s limits on her sovereignty through a unilateral declaration.

Paasikivi never met Stalin again. When he made his final visit to Moscow in September 1955, the theme was the return of the Porkkala naval base, which had been leased to the Soviet Union. Despite Molotov’s objections, Nikita Khrushchev had decided to return Porkkala to Finland and Port Arthur to China, in addition to agreeing to a State Treaty for Austria. In the large dining room of the Finnish Embassy, the 85-year-old Paasikivi, wearing full evening dress, hosted a dinner for the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, Marshal of the Soviet Union Kliment Voroshilov. I am very pleased that Ambassador Antti Karppinen, who took part in that historic first state visit between Finland and the Soviet Union is here with us today.

Back in Finland, the old statesman commented wryly that it had been the only trip to Moscow from which he had returned home satisfied. Paasikivi died in December 1956, six months after Kekkonen had succeeded him as President.

Every generation re-writes history. Conclusions change and views are revised in the light of new archive sources. Contrafactual historical writing, in other words “what-iffery”, is likewise part of the pattern. Kekkonen’s shrewdness and motives have become a special focus of this kind of examination in Finland. I know that the Russians are interested in finding out what the Finns’ attitude to Lenin is today. However, where Lenin is concerned, there has been no need to alter the basic assumptions behind the way history is written in Finland. Although Kekkonen very adeptly exploited the myth of Lenin having given independence to Finland as a "gift", the leading Finnish historian and Paasikivi biographer Professor Tuomo Polvinen demonstrated already in the 1960s that Lenin’s magnanimity was tactical. What remains a fact is that in December 1917 only Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin were prepared to recognise Finland’s independence. Not a single one of the “White” factions involved in the Russian civil war were prepared to countenance this. As late as 1919, General Nikolai Judenitch was still unprepared to extend unambiguous recognition, even in return for Finnish help in his offensive against Petrograd.

But what is the assessment of Paasikivi’s lifework today? In Finland’s history and political culture, Paasikivi represents a tradition in which knowledge of and respect for Russia is embodied. The roots of the policy that came to be known as the Paasikivi Line reach far back to the era of autonomy in the 19th century. Paasikivi learned his trade as a young politician in negotiations with representatives of the oppressive Russian power. Bend, but do not break was the principle that Paasikivi and his successors applied also to the Soviet Union.

Stabilisation of relations between Finland and the Soviet Union created the foundation on which war-ravaged Finland built her policy and put in place the prerequisites for her economic success. Determined, gradual integration into the structures of Western economic cooperation was the great achievement of Finland’s post-war policy. It was founded on Paasikivi’s fundamental assumption that in the circumstances of the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s interest in Finland was military in nature, and not ideological.

Relations between Finland and Russia are better today than they have ever been. The birth of a new Russia has opened our long border, which had been closed for over 70 years. There are no political problems between our countries, but all the more practical difficulties. This is due above all to the growing volume of traffic that a rapid increase in trade has stimulated. We are proud of the fact that Finland and our world-class industry are one of Russia’s biggest trade partners, with the total value approaching seven billion euro. As a member of the European Union, Finland wants to increase trade, investment and all-round interaction with a democratic Russia, in addition to supporting Russia in her efforts to integrate into European and global structures.

It gives me great pleasure to be able to present to you today a new portrait of Paasikivi made from a work painted by Eero Järnefelt in 1931. The painting of the 60-year-old bank director is considered to be the best portrait of him ever executed. The excellent piece by the artist Maximov will be hung in the Ambassador’s office, the interior decor of which is still the same as it was when Paasikivi was the master of this house.