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4 Mar, 2024 18:28

NATO state reopens ‘Stalin City’ base

Albania has recommissioned a long-idled airfield to serve the Western military bloc
NATO state reopens ‘Stalin City’ base

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has reopened a Soviet-era airfield, saying his country needs to provide another base of operations for NATO aircraft, despite having no military jets of its own. He said the move was needed to protect against Russian expansionism.

The long-dormant Kucova Air Base, located about 85 kilometers (53 miles) south of Tirana, was officially reopened on Monday. The inauguration ceremony follows a two-year refurbishment and modernization project – at a cost of €50 million ($54 million) to NATO – and the base will provide the Western military alliance another place for aircraft refueling and ammunition storage.

Kucova offers “another element of security for our Western Balkans region, which we know well is endangered from neo-imperialist threats and ambitions of the Russian Federation,” Rama said at Monday’s ceremony. After his speech, two US F-16s and other NATO fighter jets flew over the base, and two Eurofighter Typhoons landed.

The base had become a graveyard for rusting Soviet aircraft after being closed in 2005. The nearby town, Kucova, was nicknamed “Stalin City” when it hosted MIGs, Antonovs and other Soviet planes during Albania’s communist era. Albania joined NATO in 2009, and the country seeks to become an EU member. “Today, we live in a different era, and fortunately, Albania is on the other side,” Rama said.

Rama’s government is reportedly also in talks with NATO to build a naval base on its Adriatic coast, in Port Romano. The PM has lined up firmly behind the bloc’s anti-Russia members, hosting a regional summit last week to help Ukrainian Prime Minister Vladimir Zelensky plead for more military aid.

Tirana also hosted a visit last month by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The US diplomat boasted during a press briefing with Rama that Albania had been one of the first countries to send weapons to Kiev after Russia launched its military offensive against Ukraine in February 2022.