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Putin backs off hardline on Sweden, Finland NATO bids

STORY: Vladimir Putin appeared to climb down on Monday from Russia's objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, saying Moscow had no issues with them entering the U.S.-led military alliance.

PUTIN: "I want to inform you, dear colleagues, that Russia has no problem with those states, it hasn't. So, in this regard, expansion by the addition of those countries poses no direct threat for us. But the expansion of military infrastructure into this territory would certainly provoke our response. What that (response) will be - we will see what threats are created for us."

The comments appeared to mark a major shift in rhetoric. Moscow for decades has cast NATO expansion as a direct threat to Russia's security, including citing it as a justification for the invasion of Ukraine itself.

Russia's invasion has shaken up Europe's security architecture and forced Sweden and Finland to choose sides after staying out of NATO during the Cold War.

Finland and Sweden now say they want the protection offered by NATO's treaty, under which an attack on any member is an attack on all.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson made the announcement Monday.

"Our 200-year-long standing policy of military non-alignment has served Sweden well but the issue at hand is whether military non-alignment will keep serving us well. And Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is not only illegal and indefensible, it also undermines the European security order that Sweden builds its security on."

Swedish and Finnish officials have said Putin has only himself to blame for their decisions to join NATO.

But the plans might be hitting a snag.

NATO member Turkey said it would not approve either bid, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan saying Monday that Sweden and Finland should not bother sending delegations to Ankara to persuade Turkey.

Sweden and Finland need each of NATO's 30 members to approve their applications.