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During and after World War II Soviet Union annexed some countries while others eventually became member states of the Warsaw Pact.

What is known about how the Soviets made the decisions about which countries to annex and which were to remain more or less independent (or was it negotiated with the other Allies)? Is it known which of these fates the Soviets had planned for Finland, had they successfully occupied it?

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@SamuelRussell Your first point, about the Soviet archives, is spot on. But it's important to stress that most of these archives are still closed to researchers and it's not clear when they will ever open (some were opened up in the 1990s but the Putin era closed them back). –  Felix Goldberg Jan 16 at 7:30
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@SamuelRussell As for the second part, I wonder if it's relevant - did the Polish party have much of a say in the Soviet decisions about Poland in the 1940s? –  Felix Goldberg Jan 16 at 7:32
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Regarding the second part, it is very unusual for Poles to beg to be incorporated into a state involving Russians when that state was widely recognised to be dominated by Russians. It shows the breadth of Stalinist type party opinion. Regarding the first, this is of course unfortunate, a fulsome archival history is what the archives themselves cry out for (at least these organisations made, kept and preserved their archives and will in time be known for exactly what they were). –  Samuel Russell Jan 16 at 11:37
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Clarified the question. What I meant is whether Finland was to be annexed to the Soviet Union or just get a communist pro-Soviet government installed like East Germany. –  SLi Jan 20 at 20:50
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Actually, I don't think any country was fully annexed to the USSR after WWII, so perhaps the question needs to be clarified on that count. (The USSR did annex parts of Germany, Poland and Romania). –  Felix Goldberg Jan 21 at 18:59

3 Answers 3

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At the Yalta Conference in February 1945 the following declaration was included in the conference proceedings in regards to Poland's Eastern border:

"The three heads of Government consider that the eastern frontier of Poland should follow the Curzon Line with digressions from it in some regions of five to eight kilometers in favor of Poland. They recognize that Poland must receive substantial accessions in territory in the north and west. They feel that the opinion of the new Polish Provisional Government of National Unity should be sought in due course of the extent of these accessions and that the final delimitation of the western frontier of Poland should thereafter await the peace conference."

Subsequently at the Potsdam Conference of July & August 1945 the Borders of Poland and Russia were amended and announced in the conference proceedings as:

Article V City of Konigsberg and Surrounding Area:
The Conference examined a proposal by the Soviet Government to the effect that pending the final determination of territorial questions at the peace settlement, the section of the western frontier of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which is adjacent to the Baltic Sea should pass from a point on the eastern shore of the Bay of Danzig to the east, north of Braunsberg-Goldap, to the meeting point of the frontiers of Lithuania, the Polish Republic and East Prussia.

The Conference has agreed in principle to the proposal of the Soviet Government concerning the ultimate transfer to the Soviet Union of the City of Koenigsberg and the area adjacent to it as described above subject to expert examination of the actual frontier.

The President of the United States and the British Prime Minister have declared that they will support the proposal of the Conference at the forthcoming peace settlement

Article VII (B): Western Frontier of Poland
...
The three Heads of Government agree that, pending the final determination of Poland's western frontier, the former German territories cast of a line running from the Baltic Sea immediately west of Swinamunde, and thence along the Oder River to the confluence of the western Neisse River and along the Western Neisse to the Czechoslovak frontier, including that portion of East Prussia not placed under the administration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in accordance with the understanding reached at this conference and including the area of the former free city of Danzig, shall be under the administration of the Polish State and for such purposes should not be considered as part of the Soviet zone of occupation in Germany.

At the Fourth Moscow Conference of October 1944 (also sometimes referred to as the Second Moscow Conference, or the Tolstoy Conference) Churchill and Stalin had earlier apparently made the infamous Percentages Agreement, amended the following day by Foreign Ministers Eden (British) and Molotov (Soviet) establishing Spheres of Influence in the Balkans. As amended, this agreement was for Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary to be mostly in the Soviet sphere; Greece to be mostly in the British sphere; and Yugoslavia to be equally in both spheres.

Although minority percentages were actually set in the all cases other than Yugoslavia, it is clear that Stalin regarded these divisions as all or nothing. No overt support was provided by the USSR to the Communist guerillas during the Greek Civil War of 1946-1949 despite British support for the Greek government.

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Makes a fair bit of sense. Poland being attacked was what England went to war over in the first place, after all. They would have had a nearly impossible time agreeing to Poland being removed from the map. From Stalin's standpoint, Poland was so far into his sphere of influence, it hardly mattered to him if it was technically an independent country or not. –  T.E.D. Jan 16 at 20:16

With regards to Finland, it was the second country that the USSR invaded after signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, where Finland was one of the countries that had been assigned to the Soviet "Sphere of influence" together with Estonia, Latvia, Bessarabia and half of Poland. (The first country invaded was of course Poland).

However, there is a dispute amongst historians of what the aim of the war with Finland was, and there seems to be no papers in the Soviet archives providing a definite answer.

Officially the cause of conflict between Finland and USSR was a dispute over Karelia, which the Soviet Union wanted to provide a buffer for Leningrad. The USSR shelled one of their own border posts and blamed it on Finland as an excuse to invade. Stalin seem to have thought that Finland was going to be a soft target and that they would be able to just walk in and take over. Just as in the cases with the Baltic States the Soviet Union declared a communist republic with a puppet government. In the cases of the Baltic States these puppet governments were quickly included in the USSR, but as Finland never surrendered this wasn't an option with the short-lived Finnish Democratic Republic.

So we do know that the USSR intended to create a puppet state, because they actually did so. The remaining question is if they intended to annex that puppet state into the the USSR or let it stay a nominally independent state, like Poland and East Germany.

The arguments for annexation into the USSR are:

  1. All the other regions invaded during 1939-1940 was annexed into the USSR in one way or another.
  2. All the regions invaded during 1939-1940 had earlier been Russian, and this includes Finland. This is probably one primary reason for the annexation of these regions; the Soviet leadership simply viewed these territories as rightly belonging to them.
  3. Molotov during a visit in Berlin in 1940 was asked by Hitler how they planned to settle "The Finnish question" and answered that they planned to do it the same way as they had with the Baltic states.

Arguments against annexation are:

  1. Finland was even under Russian rule semi-independent.
  2. The Soviet Union said that they were not going to make Finland a Soviet Union.
  3. The Soviet Union didn't annex Finland, even though they could have.

I find argument 2 naive to the extreme, and I think argument 3 somewhat strange. Of course the Soviet Union technically could have occupied all of Finland, Finland was a small country with few people, the Soviet Union a huge empire. But the Finnish resistance was much stronger than anticipated, and occupying Finland would have cost the USSR a lot of men, that was better used elsewhere. It's clear that the USSR decided that the cost of Finland was not worth it, so they instead made peace. I don't think that tells us anything about what their plans for Finland was, had they succeeded in occupying it.

As such I think the weight of evidence falls clearly to the side that the USSR intended to annex Finland in the form of a USSR state, although it's unlikely we'll ever know for sure.

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This answer is according to the original version of the question, which read: "Is something known about the Soviet post-occupation plan for Finland?"

Regarding Post WWII Finland - truth is, I thought the question was weak on this point, because it gave no reason or substantiation regarding possible "Soviet post-occupation plan for Finland". But I did find this:

Why didn't USSR occupied Finland in 1944?

Why didn't USSR occupy all Finland in 1944... but the super-power that USSR was by 1944, could have occupied the country...so why not?

From a Finn, apparently quite knowledgable on this subject - see the page indicated for extensive details: Here's something I wrote, years ago, in answer for this question

The short answer: Stalin didn't want a revolution in Finland unless the Finnish communists could effect one themselves, without Soviet help. And the Finnish communists were unable to make a revolution without Soviet tanks rolling into Helsinki....

These are the most important reasons why the Finnish communists were unable to make revolution without the Soviet help. But why didn't Stalin give that help? Why didn't the Red Army occupy Finland and put the communists in power?

1) As the Soviets very well knew, the Finnish Army remained an effective fighting force. After the Soviet offensive on 9 June 1944, the following two weeks were certainly not the most glorious chapter in the history of Finnish Army. But what was most important is that the Finnish Army retreated in orderly fashion and remained intact and undefeated in the field. In the fierce battles of late June and early July 1944 the Red Army was fought to standstill, and despite its efforts, Red Army was unable to occupy Finland. As late as early August 1944 two Soviet divisions were encircled and destroyed in northern Karelia near Ilomantsi. Fully mobilized, Finnish Defence Forces fielded 450 000 experienced men. As Stalin himself in 1948 said to a surprised Finnish delegation: "Nobody respects a country with a weak army. Everybody respects a country with a strong army. I propose a toast to the Finnish Army!"

Occupying Finland would have meant for the USSR bloody war right after the devastations of WWII at the time Cold War was beginning. In all probability it would have been similar experience like Chechenia is for Russia today. When the Continuation War ended in September 1944, a group of Finnish general staff officers (with Mannerheim's unspoken approval - that's plausible deniability 40 years before Iran-Contra!) began secretly to organise weapon caches around Finland. They were meant to be used to support large-scale guerilla warfare if USSR tried to occupy Finland. This so-called Weapon Caches Case became soon public and offical investigations began (conducted, of course, by the communist Security Police). For the Soviets it was yet another evidence that if they tried to occupy Finland, they had to pay dearly. Decades later, Molotov told to a party historian: "It was a very wise decision [not to occupy Finland]. It would have been a bleeding wound in our side! The people there, they are very stubborn, very stubborn."

From these points it clearly emerges that a non-communist Finland was in best interests of post-war USSR. If the Finnish communists were able to take power themselves, good, but as they were manifestly unable to do so, better leave Finland in peace. An attempt to occupy Finland would only mean engaging USSR so soon after the WWII in a messy and costly conflict that would damage its economy and foreign relations.

From the preparation of the Finnish general staff officers for a large-scale guerrilla war if USSR tried to occupy Finland, and from Molotov's remarks, it seems clear that there was fear in Finland, and talk in the USSR, about an invasion of Finland, in the near-end and immediate post-war period, because there was already a significant communist presence there at that time. But the USSR opted not move into Finland, because they knew it would have been much too messy.

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The USSR invaded Finland and essentially lost that war. When they took up hostilities again in the continuation war they didn't do very well either. Although they mounted a counter offensive, their progress ground to a standstill in July 1944. They then signed an armistice with Finland, who effectively meant that Finland switches sides and joined the Allies. As such, this answer is quite strange. You might as well ask why the USSR didn't occupy Norway or even France. –  Lennart Regebro Jan 20 at 9:25
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@LennartRegebro - As such, this answer is quite strange... Answer is not strange at all - in fact that it's exactly what it answered: Soviets weren't interested! –  user2590 Jan 20 at 17:01
    
But that claim is completely false. They were interested, and they tried over several years to occupy Finland, including in 1944, but they failed. The question is perhaps somewhat problematic as well, but mostly in as much as it's unclear when it comes to the specific question about Finland. –  Lennart Regebro Jan 20 at 17:13
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I took the liberty of hyperlinking the "communist Security Police" to wikipedia. To me it was a weird expression, given the context, and I think people could use the clarification. Hope you don't mind! –  Felix Goldberg Jan 21 at 19:11
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@LennartRegebro: Note: An attempt to occupy Finland would only mean engaging USSR so soon after the WWII in a messy and costly conflict that would damage its economy and foreign relations. –  user2590 Jan 23 at 22:35

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