Juho Paasikivi was an important politician in the days before the Winter War broke out in November 1939. Paasikivi was the main negotiator sent to Moscow by the government of Finland to find a solution to the territorial demands of Russia. The failure of these negotiations led to war.
Paasikivi was born in 1870. He was orphaned at the age of fourteen and brought up by his aunt. In 1897, Paasikivi graduated as a lawyer and he became a doctor of law in 1901.In the following year, he became the director of Finland’s National Bank. Paasikivi was also making a name for himself in high political circles. At this time, Finland was a self-governing part of Russia and Paasikivi was a member of the Fennoman Party which was a party that wanted even more rights for Finland but did not want to initiate policies that angered Moscow. In this sense it was seen as compliant to what some saw as Finland’s masters in Moscow.
He later became chairman of the Kokoomus Party – seen as conservative in Finland but resigned from politics in 1936. However, he was persuaded to become Finland’s ambassador to Sweden. It had become very apparent to the Finnish government that Stalin’s Russia was a major threat to its independence – even if Stalin had been a Bolshevik of old, and it had been the Bolshevik Party that had given Finland independence in 1917. The League of Nations, by the late 1930’s, was seen to be the weak element in international politics that it was. Britain and France were pre-occupied – so Finland seemed extremely isolated next to Russia. Paasikivi had been sent to Sweden to build up more substantial relations with Finland’s closest friendly neighbour. It was during this time that Paasikivi became more friendly with Carl Gustaf Mannerheim – another conservative who feared Russia’s might.
Before the Winter War broke out in November 1939, Paasikivi was sent to Moscow as head of a Finnish delegation to meet Stalin and Molotov. Stalin was unbending in his territorial requirements and Paasikivi believed that the only way forward for peace was for Finland to agree to some of his territorial demands. In this he was supported by Mannerheim. Regardless of his stance, war broke out and Paasikivi served in the government of Risto Ryti as minister without portfolio. In March 1940, he led the delegation that negotiated with Molotov for an armistice and peace settlement. The Winter War ended with the Treaty of Moscow signed on March 13th 1940.
After this, Paasikivi went to Moscow as his country’s ambassador. However, he resigned from this post and from politics again when he found out that the government in Helsinki was thinking about developing relations with Nazi Germany – an idea he could not accept.
Immediately after the war, Paasikivi was appointed Prime Minister by the now President Mannerheim. Paasikivi decided to move away from previous policies and he effectively courted a positive relationship with the Soviet Union. He realised that Russia was now the major military power in Europe and Finland would have little chance against a nation with such a vast military. The problems experienced by the Russians in the Winter War were a thing of the past. The Red Army had acquitted itself very well in the campaign against the Nazis and the number of military personnel it had in the field ran into millions – with modern military equipment. Against this Finland would have had little chance, and like all of eastern Europe, Finland would have been easily overrun by the Red Army. hence why Paasikivi wanted a more positive relationship with Russia. As a gesture, Paasikivi appointed a communist (Yrjo Leino) to his cabinet – the first time this had happened in Finland’s history. Paasikivi succeeded Mannerheim as president when the latter resigned. As president, he continued with his policy of maintaining good relations with Russia.