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Albania hails NATO-backed base in former ‘Stalin City’

Romania President Klaus Iohannis NATO chief
Source: Pixabay

Albania unveiled a newly refurbished NATO-backed airbase on Monday, highlighting the alliance’s expanding footprint in southeast Europe as tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rattles the region.

The base serves as the latest symbol of Albania’s westward shift — and a key military buffer in Europe as Russia wages war in Ukraine.

During the inaugural ceremony, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama stressed that the importance of the base “extended beyond Albania’s borders”.

Rama said the base was another element of security for the Western Balkans region which, he warned, “is not far from the threat… of the Russian Federation”.

Located in an Albanian city formerly named for Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, the site was once home to dozens of Soviet- and Chinese-made planes left for years to rust in the open air on a former communist airbase.

For the past two years, the site in the central city now called Kucova has been transformed into a modern NATO-backed facility.

During the opening ceremony, four fighter jets staged a flyover before landing on the new runaway during the event attended by NATO representatives and diplomats.

The jets flew in across the Adriatic from NATO’s Aviano airbase in Italy.

Several Soviet-era MiG jets were placed at the entry to the Kucova base evoking the country’s communist past.

– ‘360-degree approach’ –

“The inauguration of Kucova air base demonstrates that the Alliance — with a 360-degree approach — is heavily engaged in this relevant region,” said NATO representative Lieutenant General Juan Pablo Sanchez de Lara.

Albania’s Defence Minister Niko Peleshi underlined that “we must be ready to defend ourselves with the only winning formula on the table: the union of our defence forces and capabilities”.

Construction at the base broke ground in early 2022 ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the same year that has sparked fears of a spillover into NATO and EU member states.

After decades of global isolation, Albania became a NATO member in 2009 along with Croatia.

Its neighbour Montenegro also joined the Alliance.

Albania was shunned by much of the world under paranoid Communist dictator Enver Hoxha, who forged close ties with the Soviet Union and China before falling out over their apparent deviation from true Marxism.

The country embraced the West after the fall of the communist regime in 1990.

The new base is likely to irk Moscow, which strongly opposes any NATO expansion into eastern and central Europe — especially in the Balkans which has traditionally been torn between East and West.

The 350-hectare (865-acre) site in the former “Stalin City” was built in the 1950s under Hoxha with help from the Soviets.

Following renovations, the facility will function as a tactical operational base with a refurbished runway more than two kilometres (1.2 miles) long and an updated control tower.

The base will also have the capacity to host state-of-the-art military aircraft and can also be used for refuelling and ammunition storage.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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