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Albania has officially opened a Soviet-era air base, now serving as a hub for NATO aircraft, in response to rising concerns over Russian influence in the Balkans.

The base at Kucova, previously known as Stalin City, celebrated its reopening with the arrival of Italian Eurofighters along with US F-16s and F-35s, situated about 50 miles from the Albanian capital, Tirana. In a statement, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said, “This is a base that (will add) another element of security for our Western Balkans region which we all know is endangered from the threat and neo-imperalist ambitions of the Russian Federation.”

The reopening, initiated just before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and undergoing improvements, has become more critical with Moscow’s increasing anti-Western sentiment in the Balkans. Acting NATO spokesman Dylan White said, “The makeover of Kucova air base 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.”

Despite not having its jet fighters, Albania demonstrated its new Bayraktar TB2 drones during the ceremony, showcasing its commitment to upgrading its military capabilities. Joining NATO in 2009 and aspiring to become a member of the European Union, Albania contrasts with Serbia’s closer ties to Russia and China, especially regarding the contentious issue of Kosovo’s independence, which Serbia, backed by Moscow, refuses to recognize.


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