April 18. 2024. 10:10

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Kucova NATO airbase officially opens in Albania

NATO’s Kucova air base in Albania was officially opened on Monday in the presence of key government officials, including Prime Minister Edi Rama, who described it as an important security element for the Western Balkans and the wider region.

During communist rule, the airbase in the southeast of the country was used by the Soviet Union and the nearby town of Kucova was known as Stalin City. Reconstruction of the site, abandoned for many years, began in 2022 and involved an investment of €50 million from NATO and €5 million from the Albanian government.

Rama inaugurated the base, describing how it was once a place used against the West, but will now be used to strengthen the West’s defences in the face of Russian aggression.

“The base is another element of security for the Western Balkans which knows well that it is a region not affected by Russian ambitions. I hope the NATO base will bring new opportunities, also to the local economy,” he said.

The Charge d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Tirana, David Wisner also spoke at the event, thanking Albanian for its cooperation with NATO and its role in maintaining security in the region.

“NATO stands as the most stable alliance in history. Today, despite the challenges, NATO is stronger and has grown as a symbol of our commitment. I congratulate Albania’s desire to expand cooperation with NATO,” he said.

“Albania is appreciated for its contribution to supporting stability in the Western Balkans,” Wisner added.

Defence Minister Niko Peleshi explained that the base would serve as a tactical and operational base and would be a strategic point for peace missions, but could even face natural disasters.

“The last MIG flew about 19 years ago. The time has come for Kuçovo to hear the echo of NATO planes, the defenders of our skies, in the most threatened decade of the region and Europe…The help that Albania can give to neighbouring countries makes us feel more committed than ever before,” Peleshi said.

He also stated that Albania will continue with plans to turn the port of Porto-Romano on the Adriatic Coast into a naval base for NATO.

President Bajram Begaj also spoke at the ceremony, saying that the base was being opened at a crucial time when the security of the entire Euro-Atlantic area was at risk. He added that NATO’s investment also showed Albania’s strategic importance to the Alliance.

“This investment takes on a special importance…Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, the situation in the Middle East and other regions, terrorism, and other threats pose challenges to the interests and values represented by the Euro-Atlantic community,” the president said.

He also nodded to the attack in Banjska in September 2023 where Serb paramilitaries attacked police with a huge arsenal of weapons, killing one officer.

“That attack showed how fragile security is in our region and proved there are still local actors who are trying to project the future through a past that should not return. In this volatile global security situation, we must always be ready to defend ourselves,” he added.

Representing NATO was Lieutenant General Juan Pablo Sanchez De Lara, the commander of the Combined Air Operation Centre at Torrejon Air Base in Spain.

(Alice Taylor | Euractiv.com)

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