Al­ba­nia’s grave­yard of MiGs to be­come NATO air base

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Regional -

LONG the grave­yard of its once mighty air force, Al­ba­nia’s base at Kucova is set to be­come a NATO sta­tion, to the de­light of its for­mer air­men long­ing to hear the en­gines roar again.

Al­ba­nia re­tired its 224 Soviet- and Chi­nese-made MiGs in 2005, and since 2009 NATO neigh­bors Italy and Greece mon­i­tor its airspace. That led to eco­nomic de­cline in and around Kucova, which was called “Stalin City” dur­ing the era of Com­mu­nist rule. “The base is the first foot­print of NATO in the Western Balkans as it will trans­form Kucova into the first NATO air base for the re­gion,” De­fense Min­is­ter Olta Xhacka told Reuters.

NATO will spend over 50 mil­lion eu­ros ($58 mil­lion) on the first stage of work to turn Kucova into a sup­port base for sup­plies, lo­gis­tics, train­ing and drills, Xhacka said.

Al­ba­nia feels it has earned such a trans­for­ma­tion at the base for help­ing main­tain sta­bil­ity in the Balkans and con­tribut­ing to NATO peace­keep­ing mis­sions around the world. “The re­gion as a whole has en­tered into an ir­re­versible Euro-At­lantic in­te­gra­tion process,” Xhacka added. News of a NATO base has stirred hopes in Kucova.

Civil­ians see the base project as an eco­nomic boost for an area plagued by em­i­gra­tion and unem­ploy­ment. The run­way, con­ceived by Soviet plan­ners who stored dy­na­mite un­der the air­field to blow it up should it fall into en­emy hands and built by po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers in the 1950s, has good weather con­di­tions all year round.

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