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Leaders in the Conflict

Soviet Millitary

Joseph Stalin

Josef Stalin
Josef Stalin was born December 18, 1878 to a poor cobbler and serf. His father had a drinking problem and was abusive, leaving Stalin with an extreme hatred for authority. At the age of eight, Stalin began his education at Gori Church School where he graduated at the top of his class. He received a scholarship at the age of 14 to attend Tiflis Theological Seminary. It was here that his interest and involvement in the Socialist movement (the branch that later became Communism), began. He joined a Georgian Social-Democratic organization and began propagating Marxism. In 1899, he was expelled from school for his participation.

He worked a decade with the political underground and experienced repeated arrests and was even exiled to Siberia between 1902-1917. He was useful in Lenin’s party because of his experiences, which gained him a place on the Central Committee in January 1912. It wasn’t until 1913, at the age of 35, that he adopted the name Stalin, which means “steel man” in Russian. While Lenin and much of his leadership were in exile, Stalin became editor of Pravda, the official Communist newspaper. In 1917 he was elected to the Central Committee as the Politburo and served in this spot for the remainder of his life.

In April of 1922 he became the general secretary of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party, a position that the built up to be the most powerful in the country. He did not achieve full power until the Great Purge of his political and ideological opponents in 1936-1938. This was a time of arrests and executions, which proved to weaken the Soviet Army during the Winter War. Stalin’s involvement in the Winter War was rooted in his anxiety of German expansion, which led to the Nazi Soviet Pact. This pact secretly outlined areas of expansion for each power, which led to the Soviet forces invading Finland in November of 1939.

Stalin was assured by his officials that the invasion would take 10 days, but as the invasion campaign led to weeks and months it was made clear that the Great Purges had severely weaken the effectiveness of the Soviet forces and they had underestimated the Finnish forces. This underestimation was brought to the world attention and Stalin became very conscious of how he was perceived on the world stage at the war continued with the Soviets taking very heavy losses.

An uneasy peace was negotiated between Finland and the Soviet Union and ended the conflict in 1940. During the end of the Winter War Stalin reevaluated his army, which worked to his advantage when Hitler decided to invade the Soviet Union during World War II.

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General Stepan Ivanovich Kodratjev
The commander of the Soviet 34th Tank Brigade who was part of the Red Army surrounded by Finnish forces in the East Lemetti Mott. He bravely lead an attack to save his forces from the Finnish encirclement and was killed in the action.

Otto Ville Kuusinen
A Finnish red exiled from Finland after the War Of Independence. His return to Finland took place when Stalin named him the head of the Terijoki government in 1939. This Soviet puppet government received no support in Finland.

Army Commander 2nd Class K. A. Meretskov
The commander of the Leningrad Military District at the time of the Winter War who did have his doubts about how the war in Finland might go. He cautioned of the terrain and how this would effect the Red Army’s movements.

Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov 1890 - 1986

Vyacheslav Molotov
Central State Archive of Photo and Cinema, St. Petersburg

Originally born Vyacheslav Skriabin on March 9, 1890, Molotov joined the Bolsheviks in 1906. He helped found the party newspaper Pravda, and during the Russian Revolution of 1917 helped plan the Bolshevik seizure of power. In 1930 - 1941 he was chairman of the Council of People's Commissars (a post equivalent to prime minister) and in 1939 - 1949 and 1953 - 1956 he served as foreign minister. He negotiated the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939 and played a key role in Soviet wartime and postwar relations with the Western powers. A faithful lieutenant of Josef Stalin, he broke with Stalin's successor Nikita Khrushchev in 1957. Molotov was dismissed from his government posts and from the party's leading bodies and named ambassador to Mongolia (1957-60) and representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna (1960-61). In 1962, he was expelled from the Communist party.

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Marshal Semyon (or Semem) Timoshenko
A World War I veteran of the Imperial Russian Army he was one of the better commanders under Stalin who was able to escape the purges. After the stalled and failed attacks of the Red Army in the Winter War, Timoshenko was made overall commander of the Soviet forces in Finland. He regrouped the troops under his command and also stressed that Red Army forces improve their communications lines as well as their tactical discipline. He also made the decision to focus the attack on the Karelian Isthmus as he felt this was the key to taking Finland. Before taking overall command he informed Stalin that while the Red Army could win in Finland, Timoshenko wanted to be absolved beforehand for the losses he knew would come.

Andrei Zhdanov
Zhdanov was made governor of Leningrad after the assignation of Sergei Kirov in 1934. A political hack of Stalin he was a great supporter of the attacks directed towards Finland. He told Stalin that the task in Finland would be easy and could be handled by the forces in the Leningrad Miltary District.