Albania's communist-era airbase gets NATO makeover

A MiG-19 jet fighter is pictured in Kucova Air Base, which will turn into a NATO air base on March 23, 2022
A MiG-19 jet fighter is pictured in Kucova Air Base, which will turn into a NATO air base on March 23, 2022 Copyright Credit: AFP
By Karolina Bohacova with AFP
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The airbase is located 85 kilometres away from the capital Tirana in Kuçova, which used to be called Stalin City during Albania's communist era.

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NATO is set to transform a former communist-era military base in Albania into a modern station for its operations in the Western Balkans.

Currently, the 350-hectare base serves as an aircraft cemetery with dozens of Soviet and Chinese MiGs, Antonovs and Yak-18s rusting in the open air under a thick layer of dust.

NATO began the reconstruction works in January and hopes to reopen the station in 2023. According to reports, it will serve as a refuelling centre and ammunition storage.

The transatlantic military alliance has reportedly invested €50 million into the project to modernise the control tower, build new storage units and restore the runway.

The airbase is located 85 kilometres away from the capital Tirana in Kuçova, which used to be called Stalin City during Albania's communist era.

It was built in the 1950s using prison labour under dictator Enver Hoxha, who eventually antagonised the USSR, China and Yugoslavia and turned Albania into a hermit state.

After the fall of communism in 1990, Albania turned West, joined NATO in 2009 and is aspiring to join the European Union.

"Albania's natural alliance has always been and will be with the West," said 85-year-old ex-pilot Niazi Nelaj, who still remembers his first flight aboard a Mig-15.

Although there are still dozens of out of order MiG jets left in Kuçovë, authorities expect to replace them soon with modern fighter jets as fears of destabilisation loom in the Western Balkans region, increased by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Credit: AFP
Major Leandro Syka inspects Yakovlev aircraft in Kucova Air Base, which will turn into a NATO airbase on March 23, 2022Credit: AFP
Credit: AFP
MiG-19 jet fighters are pictured in Kucova Air Base, which will turn into a NATO air base on March 23, 2022Credit: AFP
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