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Unused radio speech by Juho Kusti Paasikivi on the fall of Leningrad
The message has arrived that the powerful German military might has conquered St. Petersburg. For the first time in its history, this magnificent former capital of Russia has fallen. These news, while long expected, are likely to thrill the minds of all Finns.
In the Moscow negotiations before our Winter War in the autumn of 1939, the leaders of the Soviet Union used the security of St. Petersburg as their main argument when presenting us with their demands. Their claim was that St. Petersburg – the city of Lenin – was threatened, because the Finnish border was only thirty-two kilometres away from the city.
The course of the events has now proven these arguments groundless.
The destruction of Estonia and other Baltic states has not made St. Petersburg any more secure, nor saved it from its downfall. Neither did the extension of the Soviet-Finnish border westwards from Rajajoki to the former frontier of Peter the Great allow the leaders of the Soviet Union to reach the goal that they claimed to pursue in 1939: the security and the effective defence of St. Petersburg. Neither did the Soviet possession of the fortifications of Hanko bring safety to St. Petersburg and its surroundings.
The subsequent events have proven that the Soviet policy towards Finland in the autumn of 1939 as well as afterwards was mistaken. Independent of our actions, the great events of the world have revealed these political mistakes of the Soviet Union sooner than we could have expected. The Nemesis of History has raised her sword and dealt a blow on behalf of us.
Almost two hundred and twenty-five years have passed since Peter the Great founded the city of St. Petersburg and proclaimed it as the capital of Russia. He sought an access to sea, something that his already great realm still lacked. He said that he wanted to open a window to Europe. In addition, Tsar Peter was not satisfied with the Holy Moscow, its monasteries, its mutinous streltsy regiments, its old believer cultists and its conservative population who opposed his reforms. Because of this, he declared St. Petersburg as the new capital of Russia instead of Moscow in 1712.
But this action does not seem to have corresponded with reality. History tells us how difficult, cumbersome and artificial it was to create a new capital in the peripheral borderland of the Empire, amid the recently-conquered marshlands. In its early days, the construction and the settlement of the city depended on harsh coercion. At one time during the 18th century the court moved back to Moscow, and a few decades after the founding of the city the relocation of the capital back to Moscow was planned again. By 1918, the government of the Soviet Russia abandoned St. Petersburg permanently and returned to old Moscow.
The population of St. Petersburg has experienced great fluctuations. After reaching 1.3 millions at the end of the last century and 2.4 millions in 1916, it decreased to only 722'000 by 1920. Afterwards it increased significantly yet again. St. Petersburg arouses heavy memories in us Finns. The founding of the city took place in the middle of a conquest of Finland. Twice has this city been a cause of disaster for us. The founding of the city marked the loss of an important region, the town and the province of Vyborg, and their incorporation to Russia. Tsar Peter deemed this territory necessary for the protection of his city. "The frontier of Peter the Great" made a deep cut on Finland and its people. The course of history eventually brought the province of Vyborg back to Finland. But in 1940, the events from two centuries ago were repeated again. The territory of Finland was once again subject to mutilation.
The city of St. Petersburg has indeed brought ill fortune for us Finns. In a sense, it is a memorial monument to Russia's aspiration of conquest, that leading principle of Russian history. Conquest, expansion and acquisition of new territories have made up the dominating thread in the history of Russia. Of the thirty-three wars waged by Russia before the First World War, twenty-two were wars of aggression. Of the two hundred years, 128 were years of war and only 72 were years of peace. The territory of Russia has always been large, making up a sixth of the land mass of the entire world. Regardless of this, the pages of Russian history are filled with attempts to conquer more and more new territory. The policy of Russian expansion aimed towards all directions: to the northwest, towards Finland and perhaps beyond; to the south, towards Central Asia and Persian Gulf, even India; to the east, towards the Pacific Ocean.
The only field where the Empire lacked willpower and strength was the one where it needed them the most, and where it would have gained the most thankful and fruitful results: the improvement of domestic conditions, raising the people's living standards and removing the crying defects in the society. The internal, ethical development of the people could not keep pace with the external expansion of the Empire. The development of state, society, civilization and even economy lagged badly behind. There was no strength to build and enrich the domestic life. The great tasks were left undone, the failings that gnawed the life of the people and the Empire were left unrepaired. The Empire drifted to a dead end, and to a disaster.
The Russian land is immensely rich. Almost everything that a human being needs could be obtained from this country in abundance. The following question cannot be avoided: what burning necessity has compelled this country to seek the conquest of new lands, when there is already more than enough space, riches and opportunity for labour in its own vast territories, within its own borders?
The Soviet Union has followed the example of the Tsarist Russia in its foreign policy. But the Bolshevik Russia does not seem to have sufficient strength. The Soviet Russia has created a massive army and an extensive military machinery, which have required a disproportionate amount of the people's labour and the national assets, that would have been painfully needed to raise the low living standards of the population. This war machine was sufficient for the conquest of Bessarabia and the Baltic states, and it was sufficient for the war of aggression against small Finland. Now, for the first time, the Soviet Union has found itself fighting against another great power, and in spite of their great numbers and their good equipment, the Soviet forces have not managed to withstand this ordeal. The country has not been able to defend its vast territory and its long borders. The numbers and the equipment, even the individual bravery, have been considerable. But the Soviet soldiers have encountered better soldiers and better equipment. And what's more, the Soviet Union is facing higher spirit, ability and power. This is the reason to the defeats on the battlefield.
We are living in the middle of so huge and complicated events that it is impossible to say what course the history will take in the immediate future. We can only present questions and make observations. It has been noted that many Russian poets have expressed fierce resentment towards St. Petersburg and its very existence. A Russian poet has written of this city: “Only stones from frozen, empty spaces and the knowledge of this cursed mistake.”
Russia has been a part of both Europe and Asia. The greatest part of its territory belongs to Asia rather than to Europe. In Asia, it has been able to present itself as a civilizing factor. In relation to Europe, its role has been primarily of the receiving kind. It has often been noted that the very nature of the Russian people contains something completely alien to a European, and that its mentality is difficult for a western mind to understand. The famous Russian author Dostoevsky, who was perhaps more deeply aware of the Russian soul than anyone else, said: "It is difficult to turn away from that window to Europe, which Tsar Peter opened for us. It has certainly become our disaster. But Asia – yes, Asia may yet be our salvation". – Will the present historical events cause the fulcrum of Russia to move towards east and south, further away from Europe? The coming times will provide the answer.
The future of Russia and the Russian people are today shrouded in mystery. The one and the only desire of the Finnish nation is the one that we have expressed many times during the past years: to finally live and work in peace and security in this harsh north. The incapability of the people of the rich Russian land to live and cultivate our demanding country has been made very evident in recent times. Only we Finns are able to build this corner of Europe, and to create and develop a humane civilization here. We are also willing to defend this country by the force of arms.