760d.61/790: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Steinhardt) to the Secretary of State
Moscow, December 18, 1939—7 p.m.
[Received December 19—8:35 a.m.]

1107. It is becoming increasing[ly] apparent that the Soviet plans in respect of Finland have seriously miscarried and that the Soviet Government is now faced with the necessity of expending a far greater effort than had been anticipated. From many indications it would appear that Stalin was convinced that a military attack coupled with the formation of the Kuusinen government would produce internal dissension in Finland sufficient to bring about a speedy collapse of Finnish organized resistance and a swift and easy Soviet victory.

Insofar as concerns the military operations in addition to Potemkin's boast to the French Ambassador reported in my 1045, December 8, 2 p.m., I have learned from a number of reliable Soviet sources that the military plans the termination of a 9-day operation against Finland. It is rumored that Voroshilov personally assured Stalin that his motorized columns would have no difficulty in reaching Helsinki within 6 days.

Further evidence of Soviet overconfidence and miscalculation may be found in the prompt repudiation by the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs of the article concerning Rumania in the Communist International which was clearly published to coincide with or follow on the heels of the anticipated collapse of Finland.

Although military information in the Soviet press has been confined to the daily communique which gives few details of the fighting, even accepting these communiques at their face value, it is clear that far from achieving a speedy victory, the Soviet forces, after 19 days on the offensive, have made very little progress against Finland. Reports have reached Moscow from numerous sources that the large number of wounded arriving in Leningrad have necessitated the conversion of schools and other public buildings into temporary hospitals. Up to the present, no indication as to Soviet losses has appeared in the Soviet press. Swedish sources estimate the Soviet dead at 25,000.

The discomfiture of the Soviet Government over the miscarriage of its plans in Finland is reflected in the press which except for the daily communique continues to ignore the war with Finland. Reports from the field correspondents of leading Moscow newspapers which were a feature of the opening days of hostilities have been discontinued. Furthermore, the Soviet no longer makes mention of the whereabouts or the activities of the "Kuusinen government" which has maintained complete silence since the conclusion of the treaty of December 2 with the Soviet Government.

In addition I believe that the Soviet Government did not anticipate the extent of the foreign reaction against Soviet aggression or expulsion from the League. The fact that the Soviet Union apparently preferred to accept expulsion from the League rather than to withdraw of its own accord may have been due to the expectation of the Soviet Government that at least one country represented on the League Council would be sufficiently afraid of Soviet displeasure to block the required unanimous passage of a resolution of expulsion. The tone of the editorials dealing with the League action which have appeared in the leading Moscow newspapers reflect a certain uneasiness as to possible further developments in Soviet relations with foreign countries and the care taken in the editorials to divest the Soviet Union of responsibility for the fact that it is now outside the League may indicate that the Soviet Union while continuing its war with Finland does not desire at this time to precipitate a rupture with England, France or the United States.

The obvious miscarriage of Soviet plans in respect of Finland does not however mean that the Soviet Government has any intention of departing from its announced course in regard to that country. On the contrary, having definitely and publicly committed itself to the Kuusinen government and the Finnish campaign, it is extremely unlikely that the Soviet Government, if only for reasons of military prestige, would be prepared to consider the abandonment of the Finnish venture.

In view of the overwhelming preponderance of the Soviet armed forces the final outcome would appear to be only a matter of time unless Finland is able to obtain sufficient support from other countries. Should this support be forthcoming the effort which would be required of the Soviet Union might complicate Stalin's internal and external situation to such an extent as to endanger the present regime.


Source: Foreign relations of the United States. Diplomatic papers. 1939. Volume I. General. (CONCERN OF THE UNITED STATES OVER SOVIET DEMANDS ON FINLAND AND THE OUTBREAK OF THE WINTER WAR). Department of State 1956, publ. 6242. (University of Wisconsin Digital Collections)

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