McConnell, GOP senators to visit Helsinki during NATO talks

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and a delegation of GOP senators will visit Helsinki on Monday for talks with the Finnish president as the previously neutral Nordic nation bordering Russia seeks NATO membership.

McConnell is a staunch supporter of the Western military alliance, and the visit by Republicans who made a surprise stop at Ukraine’s capital this weekend demonstrates US support for the region as Ukraine fights the Russian invasion.

The office of Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said on Sunday that McConnell and Sens. Susan Collins from Maine, John Barrasso from Wyoming and John Cornyn from Texas will meet to discuss Finland’s NATO membership, the war in Ukraine and other issues. McConnell’s office confirmed the visit.

McConnell was in Stockholm on Sunday as senior diplomats from NATO’s 30 member states met in Berlin to discuss increased support for Ukraine and steps by Finland, Sweden and others to join NATO in the face of threats from Russia.

Hours after Finland’s announcement, Sweden’s ruling party also approved NATO accession, a move that could lead to the country’s application within days.

The high-level meeting of US lawmakers in Finland comes as Congress works to approve $40 billion in military aid to Ukraine, a substantial infusion of aid for the region. The move includes $6 billion for Ukraine to provide intelligence, equipment and training for its troops, plus $4 billion in funding to help Ukraine and NATO allies build their militaries.

The latest round of support would push US aid to Ukraine to more than $50 billion, raising concerns among some conservative Republicans wary of the price of overseas spending. The measure stalled in the Senate over the objection of Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., but McConnell is determined to get it passed next week.

“They are only asking for the resources they need to defend themselves against this deranged invasion,” McConnell said of the Ukrainians last week. “And they need this help now.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has already pushed support through the House in a bipartisan vote, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” about Senate Republicans: “They couldn’t pass the Ukraine law while the senators go to Ukraine empty-handed.” with a promise, we took the bill.”

On Saturday, McConnell and his colleagues met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, then issued a statement after they left the country: “Our delegation reaffirmed President Zelenskyy that the United States is fully behind Ukraine and will continue to support Ukraine.” retained until Ukraine wins this war.”

McConnell added: “It is completely in our national interest to help Ukraine achieve victory in this war and to help Ukraine and other countries deter other wars of aggression before they start.”

Zelensky said in his overnight video address on Saturday that he believed the senators’ journey showed “the strong bond between the Ukrainian and American people. We discussed several areas of support for our country, including defense and finance, as well as strengthening sanctions against Russia.”

It was the second high-profile congressional delegation to stop in Ukraine in as many weeks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., visited on May 1 with a group of House Democrats and promised Zelenskyy that the United States “will be there for you until the fight is over.”

First lady Jill Biden visited western Ukraine last weekend for a Mother’s Day meeting with Zelenskyy’s wife, Olena Zelenska.

Associated Press writer Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed to this report.

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