By Essi Lehto
HELSINKI -Finland’s president urged Russian leader Vladimir Putin during an hour-long telephone call on Friday to establish an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and to allow the evacuation of civilians via humanitarian corridors.
Finland, which is not a member of NATO, shares a long land border with Russia and has long sought to maintain good working relations with its powerful neighbour. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted public debate in Finland on whether to join the U.S.-led NATO alliance.
“President (Sauli) Niinisto emphasised the need to establish an immediate ceasefire and ensure the safe evacuation of civilians along humanitarian corridors,” the president’s office said in a statement.
Attempts to establish local ceasefires, most notably in the port city of Mariupol, have mostly failed so far.
In his call, Niinisto also discussed with Putin the need to ensure the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and he told the Russian president that the worsening human suffering is strongly impacting Western views of Russia.
Niinisto earlier on Friday also spoke with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and later tweeted that he was “doing my best for peace”.
The Finnish leader “reiterated President Zelenskiy’s readiness to speak directly with President Putin”, the presidency statement said.
Niinisto said on Thursday he had received several requests, including from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, to speak directly to Putin.
Moscow describes its actions in Ukraine as a special operation to disarm its neighbour and unseat leaders it calls neo-Nazis. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext to invade a country of 44 million people.
On Friday Russian forces bearing down on Kyiv were regrouping northwest of the Ukrainian capital, satellite pictures showed, in what Britain said could be preparation for an assault on the city within days.