Nato sets up air base in Albania’s ‘Stalin City’

Published March 5, 2024
KUCOVA: Politicians and military officials stand in front of the Italian air force’s Typhoon fighter jets during a ceremony at a newly refurbished Nato air base in Albania, on Monday.—AFP
KUCOVA: Politicians and military officials stand in front of the Italian air force’s Typhoon fighter jets during a ceremony at a newly refurbished Nato air base in Albania, on Monday.—AFP

KUCOVA: 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.

“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”.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2024

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