Boris Lvin (bbb) wrote,
Boris Lvin

Рентола, Беляков, Кекконен

Study: Soviet Union wanted to promote gradual revolution in Finland in 1970

Finnish political historian Kimmo Rentola has concluded in his extensive new book that Soviet Ambassador Aleksei Belyakov, who was stationed in Helsinki in the summer of 1970, did not try to instigate a rapid socialist revolution or coup in Finland.

Although speculation for the past 35 years has been that Belyakov had hopes of promoting a sudden change, Rentola concludes that his real aim was to advance a more gradual transition through legal means. One of the means to this end would have been the election of Foreign Minister Väinö Leskinen (SDP) to the Finnish Presidency in 1974.

A few years earlier Leskinen had made a 180-degree turn in his thinking on foreign policy; formerly a strong adherent of the right wing of the Social Democratic Party with a very critical view of Soviet socialism, he suddenly took a friendlier attitude toward the USSR, and became a leading proponent of the policies of President Urho Kekkonen.

Although he lost his Parliamentary seat in the elections of 1970, Kekkonen saw to it that Leskinen got the Foreign minister's portfolio, over the objections of the leaders of Leskinen's own Social Democratic Party.

Leskinen's ambitions for the Presidency were well known, but now, in his new book Vallankumouksen aave ("The Ghost of Revolution"), Rentola links those ambitions with Soviet hopes to push Finland onto the road to socialism.

To promote those aims, the Soviet leaders named Aleksei Belyakov, the deputy head of the international section of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, as Ambassador to Finland.

Ever since Belyakov's arrival in Finland in the summer of 1970 there have been rumours and suspicions that the Soviet Union wanted to promote a revolution or coup in Finland.

Rentola, who works as a researcher at Finland's Security Police (SUPO), has examined all relevant material to discern what the ultimate purpose for Belyakov's activities might have been.

In his 500-page book, Rentola concludes that the Soviet Union was not trying to promote a sudden or violent change in Finland, as had been the case in the 1940s.

Belyakov's minimum task was to keep the Finnish Communist Party which was racked with bitter internal disputes, from splitting up, and to maintain its position as a government party. He was also instructed to help keep the political right out of the Finnish government, as this would prevent Finland from taking a further Western orientation.

The failure of promoting a creeping revolution became apparent already in the autumn of 1970.

The KGB arranged for Belyakov's departure from Finland in February 1971. Leskinen, who had taken to drinking too much, lost his Foreign Minister's post the following autumn. He died during a skiing trip near Helsinki on his 55th birthday in March 1972.

We will have a full review of Kimmo Rentola's new book among our weekly features on Tuesday, April 5th.

1970 - a crazy year for Finnish foreign policy
Political historian Kimmo Rentola shows how Ambassador Alexei Belyakov failed in his great power play in Finland

Book review by Jukka Tarkka

The study by Kimmo Rentola can be seen as a historical multi-warhead missile. It turns the predominant view of a turning point in the recent past upside-down. It is the first statement in the moral debate on the Cold War based on rigorous study. And it also contains some trivia that prompts a few dark smiles.

One by-product of the study is a file based on information from the Finnish Security Police on what restaurants officials of the Russian Embassy would use play host to leaders of political youth organisations and key figures in Finnish business in 1969 - 1971.

This list of more than 60 names is like a latter-day Who's Who. The material will probably keep tabloid newspapers busy lamenting, pontificating, and gloating for weeks.

Nothing can stop this entertainment for the masses, but already in advance it is possible to present a reservation and a counter-argument.

The fact that influential people, or others who saw themselves as such, would hold discussions with representatives of the Soviet Embassy is neither good nor bad in and of itself. The moral content of the discussions is determined by what was spoken and how.

So far, information on contacts with Soviet diplomats has been forthcoming only when the discussions have somehow benefited Finland. The impression that they were harmful or immoral may be correct, but so far these are based mainly on guesswork.

There is no cause to arrange public hangings on the basis of the lists published by Rentola.

Alexei Belyakov, one of the top leaders of the international section of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was named Ambassador to Helsinki in the summer of 1970. According to conventional wisdom, this was to be the starting signal for preparations for a Soviet takeover of Finland.

The appointment of any Soviet politruk as Ambassador would have been a curious phenomenon as such, but the fact that the Kremlin chose Belyakov, whose main task had been keeping the Finnish Communist Party under control, was strange indeed.

The accepted truth has been that Belyakov angered President Urho Kekkonen soon after his arrival in Finland by making threats about Soviet tanks, by openly supporting the hard-line minority faction of the Finnish Communist Party, and by helping promote a strike in the Finnish metal industry, which went against an agreement negotiated with the help of President Kekkonen - the so-called UKK agreement.

According to this notion, Kekkonen suffered for a while, and then asked to see Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Vasili Kuznetsov and asked that Belyakov be sent back home, and that is how Finland got rid of the pest.

Rentola's study shows that none of it went quite like that, and some of it was actually quite the opposite.

Belyakov's mission was to make sure that the Finnish Communist Party stayed in the government by preventing a split in the party, and by establishing working cooperation with the Social Democrats.

It turns out that the Ambassador, who had been seen as the first scout of an assault on Finland, actually had a mission to spark revolution by asking the communists to unite with their worst ideological enemies - through organisational work and within the Parliamentary system.

However, during the incomes talks that later led to the UKK agreement, Belyakov gave his support to the hard-line minority of the Finnish Communist Party, which guaranteed a split, and opened an unbridgeable gap between the Communists and the Social Democrats.

After a couple of months it could be seen that Belyakov could not succeed in his mission. By Christmas the Soviet leaders had to acknowledge that the Ambassador had ruined everything.

Belyakov was ordered to establish the kinds of relationships with Finnish society that an ambassador is supposed to have.

The Soviet Union sent the most prestigious messenger possible to persuade Kekkonen that there was never any attempt to do what Belyakov had just tried and failed to achieve.

It was expedient for President Kekkonen to pretend that he believed it, even though he knew the overall situation in minute detail. Everything was the same, insisted Kuznetsov at the President's residence in Tamminiemi, and that certainly suited Kekkonen.

Belyakov did not incite the metal strike. In fact, he tried to hold the communists back. Inciting a riot was not at all compatible with the acts of contrition that Belyakov had been ordered to perform. The strike began because the young Social Democrats in the union wanted the strike, and there were many of them.

Belyakov was not summoned back to Moscow at Kekkonen's request. His departure was not until February 1971 when information about the top-secret visit by Kuznetzov had leaked to the Finnish press, probably as a result of scheming by the KGB.

The mission given to Belyakov was an attempt by the Soviet Union to seek new operational models after the antiquated methods used to deal with the ideological crisis in Czechoslovakia had destroyed the acceptability of socialism in polite society in the West.

Belyakov was as unsuccessful in Helsinki as the Soviet tanks had been in Prague, but the flop was not as conspicuous. Information about the mission given to Belyakov was consigned to the closet of great secrets in Moscow until it was unearthed by Kimmo Rentola.

When Belyakov's tricks failed, the Soviet Union tried new ones in the 1970s.

The leaders of Finnish security policy were pressured with a military threat, and its operational freedom was curtailed by emphasising the neutrality issue.

Pressure was put on Finnish opinion through specified requirements of friendship, and the political machinery was scrutinised through the kotiryssä ("home Russian") network (in which the Soviet Embassy would assign individual diplomats to maintain personal contact with key figures in Finnish society).

The combination of psychological pressure and the threat that loomed behind the scenes gradually nudged this increasingly Finlandised country closer to the edge of the brink than it had ever been during peacetime.

Stalin never got that far in the late 1940s, when the Communists, using the Soviet Union as a means of intimidation, tried to take control of Finland through political terror.

Khrushchev's charm offensive using mutual trust as bait was popular in Finland, but it did not succeed in changing the country's course.

Belyakov's mission to advance a revolution through Finnish organisations failed because of the Ambassador's lack of skill already before the Finns even realised what he was up to.

The year 1970 was a crazy Cold War year in Finland, and was followed by a new decade of peril.

At about the time that Belyakov was summoned home, Finland put forward Max Jakobson as candidate for United Nations Secretary-General. Rentola sees a connection between the two events.

He says that Viktor Vladimirov, the grandfather of all "home Russians", had told his East German colleagues about Belyakov's departure when he said that the Soviet Union would never accept Jakobson as UN Secretary-General. The Finns did not grasp this until the end of the year.

The scalp-for-a-scalp setup is new information, and would seem like 20/20 hindsight, were it not backed up by contemporary sources. The logic of the linkages of the Soviets is politically ice-cold, but consistent.

Jakobson had successfully opposed Soviet undertakings in Finland. At the same time, Belyakov tried to promote the Soviet ideology in Finland, but failed.

From the Kremlin's point of view, success in something that was detrimental was as grave a sin as failure in the construction of a setup that would have been advantageous to the Kremlin.

Rentola lays the groundwork for his analysis of the split in the Finnish Communist Party by explaining in minute detail the psychological state of the party after the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, which had sought to implement socialism with a human face.

It is quite exhausting for the reader to wade through this swamp of ideological history, but this is not Rentola's fault. Without a detailed description, it is not possible to understand how leftist youth could fall so intensely in love with the guards of a prison of the spirit, who used tanks to crush an ideal.

And indeed, it is not very easy, even if the model is described in painstaking detail as Rentola does.

Rentola shows that the childish admiration of the Soviet Union was not achieved by the hard-line minority Communists. It existed already before the split within the Communist Party. It was not the result of the minority Communist ideology, but it did form the soil from which it sprang forth.

One might imagine that all of the peculiarities of extremist ideology had already been revealed, but this is not the case. When reading Rentola, one finds oneself repeatedly rubbing one's eyes in disbelief.

For instance, Rentola puts on paper a characterisation of the Soviet Union written by Professor Antti Eskola a year after the occupation of Czechoslovakia, in which Eskola alludes to the description of love, familiar from the Bible.

According to Eskola, in the Soviet Union, love for fellow comrades and other socialist countries experiencing difficulties goes before all other considerations. "Is it not so that without love - without that ... socialist solidarity that comes with the help of tanks, if necessary - that the freedom that I so praise is but a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal?"

Today that would fall within the category of parody, but would that have been the case back then?

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 31.3.2005

Kimmo Rentola: Vallankumouksen aave. Vasemmisto, Beljakov, ja Kekkonen 1970 ("The Ghost of Revolution. The Left, Belyakov, and Kekkonen 1970") Otava Publishers, 528 pages.

Jukka Tarkka is a political scientist, researcher, and free-lance columnist.

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