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Former Finnish prime minister Alex Stubb will become the Nordic country’s next president after elections billed as the most consequential in decades following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Stubb beat Pekka Haavisto, foreign minister until June, by 52 per cent to 48 per cent on Sunday evening, according to a preliminary tally with nearly all votes counted in the elections.
“This is the greatest honour of my life,” said Stubb, as he declared victory. “We are facing a new era in foreign policy where rules are being challenged, and there is a war next door.”
Stubb becomes president at a time when neighbour Russia has stepped up its rhetoric against Finland and said it would build up its forces close to the border as a result of Helsinki joining Nato last year.
“It is the next president that will leave their mark on Nato policy and how it is done between the president and government. Finland will also have to reconstruct its relationship with Russia — it is not dissimilar to the task that Finnish presidents had right after world war two,” said Charly Salonius-Pasternak, leading researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
Stubb, also a former Finnish foreign, finance and trade minister, is an EU and foreign policy expert who has in recent years headed the school of transnational governance at the European University Institute.
He told the Financial Times last month that the Finnish president had a triple role: to act as commander-in-chief of its armed forces; to take the lead on foreign and security policy, including Nato; and to be a guardian of the Nordic country’s values.
Asked about other countries warning of Russia potentially testing Nato in the coming years, Stubb said in the interview: “Finland is in one of the safest positions that it has been throughout its history.”
Finland is able to call on one of the largest armed forces of any European country due to a large contingent of well-trained reservists that it has maintained in preparedness against a possible Russian attack for decades.
“Stubb’s ability to communicate in English, both to the media and also decision makers, should be an asset. He recognises that a president may have difficult choices, but they need to be communicated,” Salonius-Pasternak said.
Stubb was early in warning about a revanchist Russia in 2008 when Moscow invaded Georgia.
But he faced scrutiny for his decision as prime minister in 2014 — only months after Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine — to approve a Russian-financed and constructed nuclear reactor in Finland. It was eventually cancelled in 2022 after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The ex-Finnish prime minister has also faced criticism from some commentators for his views on China.
He told the FT that he viewed China as a “strategic rival” and that Finland should “not decouple but de-risk”. He added that experts should not “lump” China together with Russia, North Korea and Iran in “some kind of evil axis”.
Stubb will take over as president on March 1 from Sauli Niinistö, who has performed the role for the past 12 years and won plaudits for the way he brought Finland into Nato in record time in 2022-23.