It has been three years since NATO announced a 46 million euro upgrade to the communist-era Kucova air base in Albania, with work beginning in earnest just last month. The air base is set to be used for alliance operations upon completion of the upgrade.
The upgrade is expected to be completed by 2023, according to the Defense Ministry.
The planned upgrade includes renovating the runway, taxiways and storage facilities, and is set to bring the base up to alliance standards while supporting NATO airborne missions over the western Balkan country.
Communist rule in Albania collapsed three decades ago, and the country’s fleet of MiG fighter jets. Albania joined NATO in 2009.
“We thought that we had the best military planes then,” Guri Pashaj told reporters.
Pashaj, an engineer who worked on the base between 1968 and 1990, said he later saw MiG-15s and MiG-17s kept in a museum during a trip to Italy in 1995.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said NATO’s choice to use the Kucova air base as an operational facility “confirms the fact that tiny Albania is, nevertheless, an added value to this alliance.”
Adrian Shtuni, a policy and security specialist based in Washington, told reporters that the base upgrade was good news for the region as a whole.
“The transformation of the Kucova base into a deployable NATO tactical air base is good news for the security and stability of Albania and the Balkan region in very turbulent times in terms of security in Europe,” he said.
Even so, not everyone has expressed support for the project. Residents in Morave and Kucova have protested support for the NATO airfield expansion, arguing that government compensation for lost land has been offered at far below the market rate.
During protests in December, residents said the Defense Ministry had offered them just €1.90 per square meter of land. They argued that the value of the land is more than ten times that amount, and demanded to be properly compensated.
On 9 December, Defense Minister Niko Peleshi sought to assure those impacted by the upgrade plans. Not only would they be compensated according to market value and without delay, he said, but an additional “tens of thousands of euros” would be invested in the surrounding region as a result of the project.
Yesterday, Albania closed its airspace for all Russian aircraft except for humanitarian and emergency flights in line with European Union recommendations.
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