Finland's new president Alexander Stubb says the Nordic country enters 'a new era' as a NATO member

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HELSINKI (AP) — Alexander Stubb was sworn in Friday as Finland’s new president and said that the Nordic country "is facing a new era" after becoming a NATO member — something he will demonstrate by making his first foreign trip to inspect the military alliance's drill in neighboring Norway's Arctic region.

The 12-day NATO exercise is called Nordic Response and begins on Sunday. Stubb said that he will go for one day, on March 7.

“If someone had told me two years ago that the president of Finland would make his first working visit to NATO exercises a week after his inauguration, I wouldn't have believed it,” Stubb told reporters at a news conference in the seaside Presidential Palace in Helsinki following inauguration ceremonies.

The 55-year-old former prime minister replaced President Sauli Niinistö, a highly popular leader who held the job for two six-year terms.

Stubb, a conservative, was elected head of state in a narrow Feb. 11 runoff victory against independent candidate and former Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto of a left-leaning party.

Stubb has held several government posts, including foreign minister, and led the Finnish government in 2014-2015. He and Niinistö arrived together in high hats at the 200-seat Eduskunta legislature for transition ceremonies that included inspection of a military guard.

Stubb took his oath in Finnish and Swedish, Finland's two official languages, becoming the country's 13th president since it gained independence from the Russian Empire in 1917.

Finland joined NATO in April following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Finland has the military alliance's longest land border with Russia — 1,340 kilometers (830 miles) — and is one of the most active European providers of military and civilian aid to Ukraine.

Stubb said in his speech to lawmakers that “as a result of allying ourselves militarily and joining NATO, we have taken the final step into the Western community of values" to which Finland has belonged "in spirit throughout its independence.”

The president of Finland, a nation of 5.6 million people, holds executive power in formulating foreign and security policy together with the government. The president also commands the military.

In remarks at the Presidential Palace to the diplomatic corps, Stubb noted that “we live in an era of unrest and disorder.”

“The things that were supposed to bring us together — interdependence, trade, technology, energy, information, and currency — are now too often tearing us apart,” Stubb noted. “As a result, in my mind, we are now looking at a landscape which is shaped by pretty much three dynamics, which are cooperation, competition and conflicts. "

Stubb said that as Finland's new head of state, “I will do my best to make sure that conflicts are translated into competition, and that this competition provides genuine opportunities for cooperation.”

Stubb is expected to remain above the fray of day-to-day politics and stay out of domestic political disputes while acting as a moral leader of the nation. Among other duties, the president appoints the prime minister and Cabinet members.

Niinistö said in his speech that “there is concern about the future of NATO,” and referred to a comment by former U.S. President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican Party’s nomination this year, that he once warned a NATO ally that he “would encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to countries in the alliance that don’t spend enough on defense.

“The comment ‘they must pay their bills’ was probably drafted for domestic use," Niinistö said. “It is high time to awaken to securing the state of peace, in other words, to strengthen ourselves."

Speaking to Stubb, Niinistö said, “I wish you strength and wisdom in these unpredictable times.”

Until recently a professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, Stubb holds a doctorate in international relations from the London School of Economics.

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Jan M. Olsen contributed to this report from Copenhagen, Denmark.