Ryti-Ribbentrop Agreement

Ryti-Ribbentrop Agreement

The Ryti-Ribbentrop letter of agreement (Finnish: "Ryti–Ribbentrop-sopimus)" of June 26, 1944, signifies the closest to an alliance Finland and Nazi Germany came during World War II. According to the agreement -in the form of personal letter from President Risto Ryti to Führer Adolf Hitler- Risto Ryti, then President of Finland, undertook not to conclude peace in the Continuation War with the Soviet Union unless in agreement with Nazi Germany. The deal was the result of negotiations with Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Third Reich's foreign minister, who surprisingly had arrived in Helsinki on June 22. The letter was given after considerations with Marshal Mannerheim and the war cabinet, but was expressed as Ryti's personal undertaking, deliberately avoiding the form of a binding treaty between the governments of Finland and Nazi Germany, that would have required involvement of the Parliament of Finland.

The agreement became obsolete as Ryti resigned on July 31, 1944, and was succeeded as president by Mannerheim. Mannerheim, when queried by the head of the German headquarters, OKW, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, informed the Germans that he did not consider him or Finland bound by Ryti's concession. Within six weeks, Finland had concluded an armistice with the Soviet Union. In accordance with the armistice conditions, the Lapland War was commenced to evacuate the Wehrmacht from Northern Finland by force.

In retrospect, it has turned out that the Ryti-Ribbentrop agreement was less significant for the outcome of the war than it appeared in June 1944. The Wehrmacht had already delivered critical anti-tank weapons and sent a significant air-force detachment to support the defence on the Karelian isthmus. In fact, all necessary military aid was already in Finland or "en route" when Ribbentrop started pressuring president Ryti; and the German diplomacy and military headquarters seemingly acted independently of each other. Before the Soviet summer offensive of 1944, Finland's army was estimated to bind at least 26 divisions, 5 brigades and 16 regiments of the Red Army. The Wehrmacht had every reason to utilize the Finns as sort of a rear-troop, still strong and still very dedicated "their" task to defend their homeland from a Communist invasion, while the Germans retreated from Russia — and soon the Baltic countries.

The German foreign ministry at Wilhelmstraße, on the other hand, wanted to exploit Finland's precarious situation after the fall of Vyborg to connect military aid to political concessions. Ryti and Mannerheim were not able to know the internal balance between OKW and Wilhelmstraße; and the stakes were too high to risk that Ribbentrop's ministry could effectively pressure the Wehrmacht to withdraw its support from Finland. The decision to send the letter was made in the evening of June 25, the same day when Red army managed to break through the VKT-line at Tali.

Historical background

Finland's 20th century history had been rather turbulent up to the Continuation War. Attempted russification of Finland, and then the Russian Revolutions, had inverted the previously good Russo-Finnish relations. The Finnish Civil War, its bloody aftermath, the Åland Crisis, expansionist rhetoric and military expeditions into Russian Karelia, ardent anti-Communism, and the semi-fascist Lapua Movement's failed Mäntsälä Rebellion with connections to the highest levels in Finland had together resulted in cool and hardly improved Finno-Scandinavian relations. The attempted cooperation between the border states to the Soviet Union had failed. Residual pro-German sentiments, from Imperial Germany's critical support during the Civil War, was dented by the Nazis' Machtübernahme. Finland had democratic traditions dating back to at least the 16th century, and after the failed rebellions by left-wingers and right-wingers, the Finns were rather alienated by the brutal sides of the "New Germany" — and the "Herrenrasse" ideology did not approve of Finns.

The Abyssinia crisis of 1935 marked the end of the inter-war peace build on the League of Nations; and Finland was again threatened by being left alone with her big expansionist Russian neighbour. Under PM Kivimäki Finland's foreign policy was redirected towards Scandinavia and the neutralist Oslo group. Finland's aim was protection by belonging to a group of smaller nations that couldn't be mistaken for aggressive, but that had a common interest to withstand foreign aggression. For credibility reasons, this changed foreign policy was deemed necessary to be followed up by increased diplomatic distance to Nazi Germany and a rapprochement to the Soviet Union.

The new Scandinavian line in Finland's foreign policy was not a failure. A substantial effect was an adaptation of Finnish munitions to that produced in Sweden, which in effect may have been critical for Finland's ability to resist when the Soviet Union invaded in the Winter War. During the war, the Swedes had provided large grants and credits, munitions, provisions, sympathy and almost ten thousand voluntaries to the Winter War. However, the Finns had expected one more critical contribution: regular troops in significant numbers. The military plans were ready, but the political support in Stockholm was insufficient. Swedish suspicions against Finland's possibly expansionist goals, as often and loudly expressed by the Academic Karelia Society and related opinions, were still too strong. Sweden's decision not to send regular troops was in Finland after the harsh Moscow Peace Treaty commonly perceived as a proof of the Scandinavian policy's ultimate failure.

As both the Soviet Union and a strong public opinion in Finland disapproved of closer Finno-Swedish relations, Finland again had to redirect her foreign policy: this time towards protection by Nazi Germany (again executed by Kivimäki, now ambassador to Berlin), which after agreement on troop transitions and munitions import led to the stationing of strong Wehrmacht troops in the northern half of Finland in the run-up to Operation Barbarossa. Three days after the German attack on other fronts, half-a-dozen towns and cities in Finland were attacked by Soviet air-forces, the Continuation War began, and soon Finnish and German troops entered Soviet territory from Finland. The Nazi leadership persistently tried to formalize the Finno-German relation into an alliance, while the Finns by the Sword Scabbard Declaration had declared their goals as limited — though offensive and expansionist — to East Karelia, which was accomplished before the winter of 1941, and felt no need to a disadvantageous alliance.

As Nazi Germany's war fortune waned, Finland tried to reach a peace with the Soviet Union, which wasn't popular in Berlin, and hence food and munitions shipments from the Third Reich to Finland were discontinued in March 1944. Finland, thus enfeebled, was terrified by the Soviet summer offensive of 1944, that was coordinated with D-day in France and in few weeks resulted in a Finnish evacuation of the Karelian Isthmus. On June 22 another result was Ribbentrop's unexpected arrival in Helsinki to finally rein in Finland into the Axis. He had little success.


The Finnish language word "sopimus" has a wide scope of denotations ranging from "settlement, agreement, contract" to "pact," and "treaty." In this context, "agreement" or "contract" may be the most fitting.


The issue of what the "Ryti-Ribbentrop Agreement" was, "in reality", remains somewhat controversial, as also the issue of whether Finland's co-belligerence with Nazi Germany "in reality" was a concealed alliance, and whether the Continuation War "in reality" was a Finnish war of aggression although initiated as a defensive war against a Soviet pre-emptive attack.

Much of the controversies goes back to a Soviet perception of all of the Finnish politicians, except the illegal Communists, and much of the Finnish society, as one way or another contaminated by that "Fascism" that according to Finnish refugees in Russia had won the Finnish Civil War. While the Finns themselves regarded Fascism as a fringe phenomenon in Finland, further discredited by the Mäntsälä Rebellion, in stark opposition to the deep-rooted Finnish democracy, the Soviet leadership, intelligence service and propaganda interpreted Finnish events in the spirit of the dogmatic conviction that most leading Finns, including prominent Social Democrats, were fascists in disguise. As the Soviet Union was an Allied at the time, Soviet views have also been unusually influential on French and English language historians. Also in Scandinavia, this view has gained some popularity. After the war, the Communist Party of Finland was legalized, and Soviet world views and perceptions were often courteously reported in Finnish newspapers without too obvious debunking, even under nominally Conservative governments.


Dr. Markku Jokisipilä has recently researched this area and written his doctorate thesis "Aseveljiä vai liittolaisia? Suomi, Hitlerin Saksan liittosopimusvaatimukset ja Rytin-Ribbentropin-sopimus." ("Brothers in arms or allies? Finland, alliance demands from Hitler's Germany and the Ryti-Ribbentrop-agreement.")" on this issue.

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