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HELSINKI (AP) — Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Saturday that the militarily non-aligned Nordic country that shares a long border and history with Russia “will decide to apply for NATO membership in the coming days”.

Niinisto’s office said in a statement that the Finnish head of state told Putin in a phone conversation how thoroughly Finland’s security environment had changed after Moscow’s Feb.

24 invasion on Ukraine, and pointed to Russia’s demands on Finland refraining from seeking membership in NATO, the 30-member Western military alliance.

“The discussion (with Putin) was straightforward and unambiguous and was held without exaggeration. Avoiding tensions was considered important,” said Niinisto, Finland’s president since 2012 and one of few Western leaders who has held regular dialogue with Putin over the past ten years.

Niinisto pointed out that had already told Putin at their first meeting in 2012 that “each independent nation would maximize its own security.”

“That is still the case. By joining NATO, Finland will strengthen its own security and assume its responsibilities. It is not something away from anybody,” Niinisto said.

He stressed that Finland, despite its likely future membership in NATO, wants to continue to deal with Russia bilaterally in “practical issues generated by the border neighborhood” and hope to engage with Moscow “in a professional manner”.

The phone call was conducted on Finland’s initiative, Niinisto’s office said. The statement didn’t disclose any comments from Putin or the Kremlin on the conversation.

Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia, the longest by any European Union member.

Niinisto and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Thursday jointly endorsed Finland’s NATO bid and recommended that the country “must apply for NATO membership without delay” to guarantee the nation’s security amid Russia’s military maneuvers in Ukraine and Europe’s changed geopolitical and security landscape.

A formal announcement from Niinisto and Marin that Finland intends to apply for NATO membership is expected on Sunday, a day after the likely endorsement by Marin’s governing Social Democratic.

Neighboring Sweden is set to decide on its NATO stance on Sunday in a meeting of the governing Social Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

U.S. President Joe Biden held a joint call Friday with both Niinisto and Andersson where, according to a White House statement, he “underscored his support for NATO’s Open Door policy and for the right of Finland and Sweden to decide their own future, foreign policy and security arrangements.”

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Most Republican senators who voted against Ukraine aid will back NATO expansion

(CNN)Several Republican senators told CNN Thursday that despite their votes against a $40 billion military aid package for Ukraine, they do intend to vote to admit Finland and Sweden into NATO when and if that question comes before the Senate.

But some indicated they have not decided whether to approve the expansion the alliance and one conservative, Josh Hawley of Missouri, said he's "undecided" and concerned the US is too involved in security issues in Europe and should be focused on the Asia Pacific."I'm undecided," Hawley said. "I want to make sure it will not increase America's security commitments in Europe. Certainly I want to make sure there is no need for more forces. My view is that we need to be, on the whole, doing less in Europe and looking towards the Asia Pacific in terms of our foreign policy challenges."
    When asked how to defend against the sudden and ongoing aggression from Russia against Ukraine, Hawley said: "The Europeans need to be doing more," adding he wants to increase the amount of money other NATO countries contribute to the organization.
      "It's something I would look at I haven't made a decision," said Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah. "It's a significant thing. Obviously, I want to consider the proposal."Read MoreAnd Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, who delayed a final vote on the Ukraine funding for more that week, wouldn't say what he will do on the question about Finland and Sweden. "We don't have a public statement yet," he said.
        Biden says Finland and Sweden have full, total, complete backing of US as they seek to join NATOIn all, 11 Republicans voted against the bill, something that clearly angered Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who implored his colleagues to back the military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin. As the votes were taking place Thursday, McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and a group of bipartisan senators met off the Senate floor with the President of Finland and Prime Minister of Sweden. Senators who voted no said they were concerned about the expensive bill's impact on inflation and the US deficit. But most interviewed by CNN said they saw the fiscal concerns as a separate issue from whether they back Ukraine in its war with Russia or if NATO would be empowered by adding two countries that are in close proximity to Russia. Finland and Sweden have formally applied to join NATO, but Turkey is blocking that for now. Should that change, two-thirds of the Senate would need to vote to alter the treaty, something that would be expected to be approved. "I'm 100% for that. I think the more that we get in that region to push back on Putin, the better," said Sen. Mike Braun, a Republican of Indiana. "I'm one of the few that votes against policies I like if it's not paid for. Every penny. And in this case I would expect the EU to be matching what we're doing and they are not."Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a Republican from Alabama, said he would back adding the two countries: "I think it's good for them, good for us. They have good militaries, and they are asking us, we're not asking them, and that's a good thing.""Yes, I'm supportive of that because it's going to be accretive to NATO's capabilities," said GOP Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee. "I'm very realistic about these situations and the notion that it will bring in allies to NATO that will make it stronger."The most striking aspect of Sweden and Finlands application to join NATOTwo senators expressed support for growing NATO but said they wanted to learn more details and hear out concerns of other senators."Too be honest, I haven't really gotten a briefing yet for what the plan is," said Sen. John Boozman, a Republican from Arkansas. "I'd like the reassurance that if they join they're going to spend money on their defense. Things like that. I just don't have that information. But certainly if they're willing to do what's needed than I would be supportive, but I haven't really had those discussions."
          GOP Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho said: "I'd have to look at it, but I certainly think that would be a positive thing. I know where are some people who are critical of it so I want to hear their case. But I'm certainly not opposed to it at this point."One Republican senator who voted against the Ukraine aid, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, declined to comment on the NATO question.

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