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Nato member Albania opens air base in former ‘Stalin city’

Nato member Albania opened a revamped Soviet-era air base on March 4 in a strategic move for the alliance in the Western Balkan region as concerns over Russian aggression grow.

Prime Minister Edi Rama, speaking at the inauguration ceremony, spoke of the importance of the refurbished Kucova Air Base in light of heightened tensions. “This is a base that adds another element of security for our Western Balkans region, which we all know is endangered from the threat and neo-imperialist ambitions of the Russian Federation,” Rama said.

According to a Nato statement, the Kuçova airbase will both serve Albania and support logistics, air operations, training and exercises for the alliance. 

The Kucova Air Base, around 80 kilometres south of the capital Tirana, has undergone extensive renovations funded by Nato, totaling over €50mn. This makes it Nato’s biggest project in the Southeast European country in the last decade. 

The upgrades include modernisation of infrastructure, such as control towers, runways, hangars and storage facilities, transforming it into a modern hub capable of hosting various fighter jets and serving as a training centre.

“The airbase will serve as an important Nato air hub,” said Nato acting spokesperson Dylan White. “The makeover of Kucova airbase is a strategic investment and shows that Nato continues to strengthen its presence in the Western Balkans, an area of strategic importance to the Alliance.”

Two fighter jets from Nato’s Aviano Air Base in Italy landed at Kucova to mark the reopening of the airfield.

The base was formerly dubbed “Stalin City” during the Cold War era when it housed Soviet and Chinese-made MIGs. 

Albania, which joined Nato in 2009 and is in discussions with the alliance to establish a naval base on the Adriatic coast, views the reactivation of Kucova Air Base as crucial for regional security.

Rama said at the opening ceremony that back in the Cold War era, “Albania, with this base that we are reopening today, was considered a strategic outpost of the Soviet Empire facing Western Europe, and here in Kučovo a considerable number of bombers were stationed.”

He added: “Today we live in a different era and fortunately Albania is on the other side, welcoming with pride and respect its allies and partners in an alliance, which is first and foremost an alliance of values in defence of peace and democracy.”

Source: BNE