For six centuries Russia tried and spectacularly failed to conquer Finland before Alexander I won it from Sweden in 1808-09. Alexander had two big advantages: 1) he made a deal with the Swedish gentry in Finland promising them self-government; 2) he waited until February to begin his invasion, when the Finnish lakes were frozen fast and he could bring up supplies by sledge. Even then it took him 19 months to quiet the Finns.

Russia's Joseph Stalin began his invasion last fortnight with these advantages reversed. Instead of a disgruntled ruling class, he...

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