The Ryti–Ribbentrop letter of agreement (Finnish: Ryti–Ribbentrop-sopimus) of June 26, 1944, was a personal letter from President Risto Ryti of Finland to German Führer Adolf Hitler whereby Ryti agreed not to reach a separate peace in the war with the Soviet Union without approval from Nazi Germany, in order to secure German military aid for Finland to stop the Soviet offensive. This letter marked the closest to an alliance that Finland and Nazi Germany came to during World War II.
Although Finland had had residual pro-German sentiments from Imperial Germany's critical support during the Civil War, those sentiments were dented by the Nazi ideology, especially its undemocratic totalitarism. 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 policies of the new Germany.
So it was no wonder that neither Finland nor Germany wanted a formalized alliance in the beginning in their fight against the Soviet Union, though for very different reasons. It was only after the war turned out to last longer than expected that German interest in an alliance treaty rose, although by then the Finns had even less desire to bind themselves with a formal treaty. Germany tried several times to pressure the Finns by cutting food and arms deliveries, but the military importance of Finnish participation resulted in their resumption quite soon afterwards.
As Nazi Germany's war fortune waned, the Finnish government tried to reach a peace agreement with the Soviet Union in March 1944, which was not popular in Berlin; and hence food and munitions shipments from the Third Reich to Finland were once again discontinued in March 1944.
Finland was terrified by the Soviet summer offensive of 1944 that was coordinated with D-day in France. In two weeks, the Finns evacuated the southern Karelian Isthmus. Another result was German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop's unexpected June 22 arrival in Helsinki to finally rein Finland into the Axis fold.
The deal was the result of Finnish negotiations with Ribbentrop. The letter was given after Ryti's consultations with Finnish Commander-in-Chief Marshal Mannerheim and the Finnish war cabinet. The promise that resulted was expressed as Ryti's personal undertaking, which thereby deliberately avoided the form of a binding treaty between the governments of Finland and Nazi Germany, which would have required the involvement of the Finnish parliament.
The agreement became obsolete when Ryti resigned on July 31, 1944, and was succeeded as president by Mannerheim, who did not consider himself 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.
It 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 Finnish defence on the Karelian isthmus. In fact, all necessary military aid was already in Finland or en route when Ribbentrop started pressuring President Ryti; German defense ministry diplomacy and military headquarters seemingly acted independently of each other. Before the Soviet summer offensive of 1944, Finland's army was estimated to be keeping at least 26 divisions, 5 brigades and 16 regiments of the Red Army busy. The Wehrmacht had every reason to utilize the Finns as sort of a rear-troop, still strong and still very dedicated to their task to defend their homeland from a Communist invasion, while the Germans retreated from Russia and 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 did not know the internal balance between OKW and Wilhelmstraße, and the stakes were too high to risk Ribbentrop's pressuring 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 the Red army managed to break through the VKT-line at Tali.
The Finnish language word sopimus has a wide scope of denotations ranging from settlement, agreement, and 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, even though initiated as a defensive war against impending Soviet attack.
Much of the controversy goes back to Soviet perception of all Finnish politicians, except the illegal Communists, and the Soviet perception of much of Finnish society, as one way or another contaminated by that "Fascism" that according to red 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. Because the Soviet Union was an Allied Power 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.
- Polvinen, Tuomo. "The Great Powers and Finland 1941-1944," Revue Internationale d'Histoire Militaire (1985), Issue 62, pp 133–152.
- Vehviläinen, Olli (2002). Finland in the Second World War. Palgrave-Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-80149-0.
- Jokisipilä, Markku (2004). Aseveljiä vai liittolaisia (in Finnish). SKS. ISBN 951-746-609-9.