In one of the first stops on a major visit with European allies, Secretary of Defense James Mattis praised U.S.-Finnish ties and Finland’s president for spearheading a response to Russian “hybrid warfare.”

“With this center, Finland has created an institution fit for our time, and I thank you, Mr. President, for your foresight.” Mattis said during a joint press conference. Finland has led the effort to create the European Center of Excellence for Counter Hybrid Threats, a thinly veiled reference to Russia’s recent foreign policy adventurism in Europe that has many smaller European countries, and historic enemies like Finland, thinking critically about the potential for a Russian attack.

Mattis used the opportunity for a sort of U.S. diplomatic show of force as he prepares to meet with the Northern Group, an organization of 12 northern European nations, saying “by tightening such cooperation here in the north, we see the deterrent capability of democracies strengthened,” and that “In today’s conversations, we reaffirm that relations between Finland and the United States have never been stronger.”

While not technically a function of NATO, the Hybrid Threat Center was wholeheartedly endorsed by the alliance. When the center was officially established earlier this year, it described its mission: “NATO’s counter-hybrid strategy includes strengthened coordination with the European Union, and also involves our new Intelligence Division, more training and exercises, and our work to actively counter propaganda with facts.”