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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Finland seeks to reassure Russia about Nato bid

Different badges are seen as a few hundred protesters gather during a demonstration against a possible Nato membership of Sweden outside the ruling Social Democrats party's office in Stockholm. - AFP
Different badges are seen as a few hundred protesters gather during a demonstration against a possible Nato membership of Sweden outside the ruling Social Democrats party's office in Stockholm. - AFP

KYIV: Finland on Saturday sought to allay Moscow's fears about its bid to join Nato, as fierce fighting raged in Ukraine's east, slowing down a hoped-for Russian advance.


Wives and parents of Ukrainian fighters trapped in the bowels of a besieged steel plant in the country's south meanwhile made a desperate appeal to China to help secure their release.


And the G7 vowed to further turn the screw on the Kremlin with fresh sanctions, pledging never to recognise the borders it was attempting to redraw through destructive force.


One of Europe's fiercest conflicts since World War II has seen more than six million people flee for their lives, and according to Kyiv has caused an estimated $90 billion in damage to civilian infrastructure.


One senior Ukrainian general predicted a turning point in the months ahead, and that the fighting could be over by the end of the year.


In Turin, Italy, a world away from the fighting, Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra is the bookmakers' favourite to triumph at the world's biggest live music event -- the Eurovision Song Contest -- on a wave of popular support.


But even here the war cast a shadow.


"We have one band member who joined the territorial defence of Kyiv on the third day of the war," said lead singer Oleh Psiuk.


"We are very worried about him, and we hope to see him safe once we are back."


Finland and Sweden are poised to jettison decades of military non-alignment to join Nato as a defence against feared further aggression from Russia.


Moscow has warned Finland, with whom it shares a 1,300-kilometre border, that it would take "reciprocal steps".


Hours after Finland's grid operator said Russia had pulled the plug on electricity supplies overnight, President Sauli Niinisto spoke to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.


"The conversation was direct and straight-forward and it was conducted without aggravations," Niinisto's office said.


"Avoiding tensions was considered important. The phone call was initiated by Finland."


Putin, however, told him that Finland joining Nato would be a "mistake", insisting that Russia posed "no threat to Finland's security", the Kremlin said.


Finland's bid to join Nato is expected to be announced this weekend. Both Helsinki and Stockholm will first have to convince Nato member Turkey on the sidelines of an informal gathering of the alliance's foreign ministers in Berlin. - AFP


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