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Finland should stay calm amid Trump NATO rhetoric, president-elect says

Finland's Stubb, who declared himself winner of presidential election, attends press conference in Helsinki

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland's president-elect Alexander Stubb said on Monday his country should remain calm and focus on its NATO membership despite former U.S. President Donald Trump's recent critical comments on the military alliance.

Trump, the front-runner to become the Republican candidate in November's U.S. presidential election, said last week he would not want to protect NATO members from a future attack by Russia if those countries' contributions to NATO were lagging.

"U.S. election campaigns are very different from Finnish elections, and the rhetoric used is quite a lot stronger...I think at this stage it is best to remain calm and focus on building our NATO membership," Stubb told a press conference.

Finland, which won admission to NATO in April last year in response to neighbour Russia's invasion of Ukraine, spends more on defence than the target of 2% of gross domestic product agreed by NATO member states, Stubb added.

Kaja Kallas, the prime minister of Finland's neighbouring NATO ally Estonia, said on Monday Trump's comments should be a wake-up call for allies to spend more on defence.

Stubb said he wanted to ensure Finland will have a decisive role in NATO. "We want to be in the core of decision-making, sit around the tables where decisions are made," he said.

In a historic security policy U-turn after decades of military non-alignment, Finland last year became NATO's 31st member, seeking better protection against any Russian threat.

Stubb, who will take office on March 1, is pro-European and a strong supporter of Ukraine who has taken a tough stance towards Russia, with which Finland shares a long border.

"Before Russia ends its war of aggression against Ukraine it will be very difficult to have a relationship with Russia," said Stubb, the first president of formerly neutral Finland whose key tasks will not include maintaining good relations with Russia.

On Sunday, the centre-right former prime minister and investment banker narrowly beat liberal runner-up Pekka Haavisto from the Green Party with 51.6% of the three million votes cast in the election, data showed.

"I'm really happy that Alexander Stubb won, and I wish that he will represent Finland in a good way, evolve our relationship to other countries, to Europe, to the U.S. and to NATO," said Satu Lappalainen, a 39-year-old consultant from Helsinki.

(Reporting by Essi Lehto and Tom Little in Helsinki; editing by Terje Solsvik, Stine Jacobsen, Louise Rasmussen and Mark Heinrich)