State Historical and Cultural Reserve «The Field of the Great Poltava Battle»
Ukr Rus Eng
1709 2009

Educational lecture of a Finnish professor at the Poltava Battle field

13 March 2013

On the 12th of March Poltava Battle History Museum was visited by the delegation, headed by Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Finland to Ukraine Arja Makkonen. The delegation member was also a Finnish professor, Dr. Pol. Sc. Pekka Visuri, who lectured on "Finnish-Ukrainian parallels in military history from the Battle of Poltava to the Second World War" in the exposition hall "Cossack State". Among his listeners were students of History Faculty of Poltava National Pedagogical University named after V. G. Korolenko, the museum scientists, history lecturers, local lore students and media. At the end of the lecture professor talked with the audience and answered all their numerous questions. Our guests listened with interest tours of the museum and the historic city part of Poltava, conducted by museum scientists of Poltava Battle Field reserve.

Our reference: Pekka Visuri, Dr. Pol. Sc. and retired Army colonel, has worked 15 years as researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in Helsinki and from 2008 at the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki. He has been adjunct professor at the National Defence University in Helsinki, specialized in security policy, strategy and political history. At present he is senior fellow at the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki.
He is now working in the EU/CBSS projects (EUSBR, PA 14 and Anvil) concerning the strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, special area civil protection.
His dissertation (in Finnish) From total war to crisis management. The evolution of defence doctrines in western Central Europe and Finland 1945-1985 (University of Helsinki 1989).

The latest publications include Suomen turvallisuus- ja puolustuspolitiikan linjaukset (ed. 2. edition, Engl. Guidelines for the Finnish Security and Defence Policy, Helsinki: Otava, 2003), Suomi ja kriisit (coeditor with Tuomas Forsberg et al, Engl. Finland and Crises, Helsinki: Gaudeamus, 2003), Suomi kylmassa sodassa (Finland in the Cold War. Helsinki: Otava, 2006), Sverige och Finland vid skiljevagen 1808-1812 (co-author, Esbo: Fenix, 2009), Idan ja lannen valissa - puolustuspolitiikka presidentti Kekkosen kaudella (Engl. Between East and West - Finland's Defence Policy during Urho Kekkonen's Presidency, Fenix, 2010), Maailman muutos ja Suomi (Engl. The Change of the World and Finland, WSOYpro, 2011), Timo Hellenberg - Pekka Visuri (eds.), Securing Air Traffic. Case CBRN Terrorism. Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki 2011) and Myrskyn silmassa - Suomi ja uudet kriisit (Finland and new crises, co-author with Timo Hellenberg et al, WSOYpro, 2011).

Pekka Visuri "Finnish - Ukrainian parallels in military history
from Poltava to the Second World War"

For centuries both Finland and Ukraine were borderlands and buffers between Russia and western powers. Finland was eastern part of the Swedish kingdom. The decisive period also for Finland was the Great Northern War 1700-1721 when the Swedish kingdom struggled almost alone against an alliance of Russia, Denmark, Prussia and Poland.

The most catastrophic for Sweden was the battle of Poltava on 27. June 1709. Before it, during the autumn and winter the Swedish army already suffered losses and was lacking supply so that it was no more as effective as it had been during the first phases of the Great Northern War. King Charles XII had been continuously victorious from the battle of Narva in 1700.

Finnish troops had been an essential part of the Royal Swedish Army, but they had already strongly diminished, especially in the in the battle of Lesnaya, in September 1708.A part of the Swedish army, coming from Riga through Belarus in order to strengthen the main army was commanded by general Lewenhaupt. It lost 5 000 men in the battle. A big share of them was Finns. The victory convinced the Russian army that they could stand a match against Sweden's soldiers.

The Swedish invasion of Russia had already failed with the loss of their major supply column to the Russians and their failure to receive expected reinforcements. King Charles had to move his army towards southern Ukraine for the winter and in order to get there food during the next summer.

Despite the severe shortages of men, artillery and powder, the Swedes still continued the war and besieged the fortress of Poltava in May 1709.

In the battle of Poltava, west of the Vorskla River, were together some 40000 Russian troops under Czar Peter I against20000 Swedes of King's army. Being so much overwhelmed Charles planned to assault directly the main Russian defensive position, as he was used to do. But the Swedish attack faltered, and then the Russian counterattack, with 30000 troops, killed or captured almost the entire Swedish army. From the Swedish main army circa 7 000 died and 3 000 became prisoners of war. King Charles and some 1500 followers escaped south into Turkish area.

For Finland and the Baltic provinces of Sweden the failure of the main army was disastrous because the Russian troops could then easily occupy the areas in the North. The Czar Peter had already founded the city of Sankt Petersburg in 1703, and the Russian troops advanced to Finland beginning attacks in 1710. During the next decennium Finland was occupied and badly destroyed. In the peace treaty of Nystad 1721 the eastern Finnish province of Carelia was ceded to Russia, and Czar Peter took the title Emperor. Sweden was no more a great power.

Both Finland and Ukraine remained as disputed lands and battlefields until Napoleonic wars. During the meeting of two Emperors, Alexander and Napoleon, in Tilsit 1807 was agreed that Russia should force Sweden to join the alliance against the Great Britain. The Swedish king refused to do so, and after some months negotiations Russia invaded Finland in winter 1808. Next year, in the peace treaty of Fredrikshamn, Finland was ceded to Russia as an autonomous grand principality. The Emperor of Russia ruled Finland as a semi-constitutional monarch through his governor and native Finnish Senate appointed by him.

During the First World War, after the Bolshevik revolution, Finland was declared independent on 6. December 1917. Both Finland and Ukraine became at the same time independent, or in fact, briefly semi-independent under German influence, after Brest-Litovsk armistice treaty in March 1918. Then they were objects of the Soviet-Russian attempts to re-build the empire after 1918.Finland remained as an independent state also in the new attempts during Second World War.

After Hitler-Stalin pact in August 1939 Finland was left in the Soviet influence zone. At the end of November the Red Army invaded Finland, and the Winter War began. It lasted until March of 1940.

The Red Army attacked surprisingly hard also in the Northern Finland. In Suomussalmi the Soviet 163. Division firstly advanced with its main troops from north through small forest roads and could occupy the church village. Then it became under Finnish counterattack and after some weeks it was forced to withdraw losing almost all its heavy weapons .

In the southern part of Suomussalmi began thebattle in the road to Raate. There were already in the middle of December the first echelons of the Ukrainian 44. Division. They had two weeks ago begun the long railway transport from the Military District of Kiev, and after arriving in the area of Kemi, on the railway to Murmansk, they had to march 200 kilometers along narrow forest roads towards Suomussalmi. The division halted between church of Suomussalmi and Raate.

The 44. Division had been moved to the cold Finnish forests without adequate winter equipment and in rather disordered condition. The division had no freedom of action because it could not move in the forests, and the road was too narrow for maneuvering. The Finnish ski troops began to attack against it especially during the nights, and the cold weather froze the division which was without tents and skis in middle of dark forest, suffering from extreme cold. The encircled division lost in two weeks some 6 000 men and all heavy weapons, and the rest of its troops had to withdraw in small groups through woods towards east.

The Red Army then made a major offensive in the Southern Finland, and in the peace treaty made in March Finland had to cede the province of Carelia and some other areas. The Soviet Union continued political pressuring during the summer 1940. This was the reason why the Finnish Government sought support from Germany, when Hitler began to prepare the invasion of Russia according to the Barbarossa plan. In June 1941 Finland joined the German invasion towards east, and became so an enemy of the Allied Powers. In the peace treaty after the war Finland lost again some areas and was forced to war reparations.

However, Finland remained as an independent state also after the Second World War, but was during the Cold War a part of the Soviet security zone against west. Finland was still part of the Nordic group of states and, from the early 1970s on, had free trade agreements with the European Economic Community. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the integration to the west deepened, and Finland became a member of the European Union in 1995. However, Finland together with Sweden remained militarily non-allied.

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