How the Finns Deter Russian Invasion

How the Finns Deter Russian Invasion. By Graeme Wood.

In the past few days, the Ukrainian government has handed out tens of thousands of rifles to ordinary, untrained citizens, and it has encouraged anyone capable of striking a Zippo flint to learn how to prepare and throw Molotov cocktails. …

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced the release from prison of certain criminals, also to take up arms against Russian invaders. Ukraine’s territorial-defense force, a citizen army, has trained sporadically for months but has only now opened its ranks, frantically, to everyone physically capable of serving. …

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a strategic failure because it assumed and required a quick and decisive victory, and at best it will get victory slow and Pyrrhic. But the Ukrainians have failed badly as well, by waiting too long to arm and train their citizens. If you want ordinary people to make your society occupation-proof, you have to teach them to kill well before they need to do so.

The strategist Edward N. Luttwak has proposed that countries aligned with NATO shift in this direction preemptively, as a matter of policy. Instead of buying heavy, technologically advanced equipment, Luttwak told me, they should adopt the Finnish model.

In Finland, adolescent males report for a short and intense period of military training, followed by shorter refreshers for most of their adult life. The training is not, as in the Israeli model, a few years of dedicated service. Nor does it emphasize military discipline, such as keeping one’s bunk tidy and shoes polished, or the Prussian-style transformation of citizen-recruit into fighting machine. Instead, it prepares civilians to be ready to join their unit and harass and kill invaders. A country of Finland’s size can rapidly field nearly 1 million trained soldiers. “Ukraine could have done this,” Luttwak said, “and they should have.”

The Finno-Soviet Winter War of 1939 ended with Soviet withdrawal, and Luttwak said it should now be a deterrent model for other countries, including Poland and the Baltic nations. “Do not try to stop the invasion,” Luttwak said. “Wait for them to enter your country. Once the tank stops rolling forward, let the soldiers come out to cook or to pee, and then kill them.” Finland suffered during the invasion and conceded territory in the peace treaty that ended the war three months later. But the Soviets lost about seven times as many men, and when they withdrew, they knew that occupying Finland again would mean frostbite, fear, and the chance of getting shot dead in the snow with your pants down. …

Moreover, since the Winter War, technological innovations have tilted the balance even further in favor of a moderately trained civilian reserve. The Finnish model is much more deadly when combined with modern point-and-shoot anti-tank weaponry, such as the Javelin system already on the ground in Ukraine. The Javelin is expensive — each missile costs about as much as a small American suburban house — but since money and weapons are just about the only things Ukraine’s allies are ready to provide, that might not be such a big issue. Javelins can destroy a tank and its occupants from far away; the operator does not need to hide in a hole and wait for a tank’s hatches to open. Instead, he locks on to its infrared signature, then fires a rocket from his shoulder. It flies 150 yards up and nearly two miles horizontally, then arcs down to hit the tank from above, where armor is thinnest. Javelins are simple to use. Two weeks of training is standard in nonemergency conditions, and the Ukrainians are motivated learners. …

Where these efforts undoubtedly count is in the propaganda war, which Ukraine is winning overwhelmingly. Russians will see images of people ardent with desire to kill them, and these people will include Ukrainians whom in other circumstances the Russians might want to help cross the street, play soccer with, or date. This is demoralizing. For some men, the thought of being shot by a girl is particularly sickening. (In the Second Chechen War, one potent image was of the semi-mythical mercenaries known as “White Stockings”—blond Estonian female ex-biathletes recruited by Chechens to snipe at Russians, and aim at the groin.)

Speaking of problems with handing out guns to citizens, here’s an interesting report from Kiev. Apparently the criminal gangs grabbed most of the guns, then set about shooting each other to re-establish dominance. You can never be sure it isn’t propaganda, but it seems real enough.

hat-tip Stephen Harper