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The Russian president has warned his Finnish counterpart that relations between the two neighbors could be “negatively affected” if Finland follows through on its NATO candidacy.

The Kremlin press service said in a statement that Vladimir Putin had told Sauli Niinistö that Finland’s abandonment “of its traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake because there is no threat to the security of the Finland”.

The statement added: “Such a change in the country’s foreign policy could negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations, which have been built in the spirit of good neighborliness and partnership for many years, and are mutually beneficial.

The response came after Niinistö told Putin in a phone conversation that the militarily non-aligned Nordic country, which has a complex history with its eastern neighbor, “will decide whether to apply for NATO membership in the coming days. “.

Niinistö’s office said the Finnish head of state told Putin how dramatically Finland’s security environment had changed after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, and highlighted the demands of the Russia to Finland to refrain from applying for membership in the 30-member Western military alliance.

“The discussion [with Putin] was simple and unambiguous and was kept without exaggeration. Avoiding tension was seen as important,” said Niinistö, Finland’s president since 2012 and one of the few Western leaders to engage in regular dialogue with Putin over the past decade.

Niinistö said he had already told Putin at their first meeting in 2012 that “each independent nation would maximize its own security”.

” It’s always like that. By joining NATO, Finland will strengthen its own security and assume its responsibilities. It’s not something far from anyone,” Niinistö said.

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

According to the Kremlin statement, the two leaders also discussed the Russian military operation in Ukraine and the possibility of reaching a political solution. Putin said talks between Moscow and Kyiv had been suspended due to Ukraine’s “lack of interest in serious and constructive dialogue”.

The phone call was made at the initiative of Finland, Niinistö’s office said.

Finland shares an 830-mile (1,340 km) border with Russia, the longest of any EU member.

Niinistö and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Thursday jointly endorsed Finland’s NATO bid and recommended that the country apply “without delay” to ensure security amid Russian military maneuvers in Ukraine and the landscape modified geopolitics and security of Europe.

An official announcement from Niinistö and Marin of Finland’s intention to apply for membership is expected on Sunday. Marin’s ruling Social Democratic Party endorsed the candidacy on Saturday, paving the way for a parliamentary vote next week to approve the decision. It is expected to pass with overwhelming support.

A formal application for membership would then be submitted to NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

Neighboring Sweden is expected to decide its position on Sunday at a meeting of the ruling Social Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

US President Joe Biden held a joint call with Niinistö and Andersson on Friday where, according to a White House statement, he “underlined his support for NATO’s open door policy and Finland’s right and Sweden to decide their own future, foreign policy and security arrangements”.

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