Kucova airbase: the strategic regional security investment of NATO in Albania - Alba Cela, Mars 2024

Albania’s 15th NATO accession anniversary could not have had a better marker than the re-opening of the Kucova air base.This is a strong signal of engagement of the Alliance in a region marked by vulnerability to Russian interference.

NATO/OTAN Logo | Author: Unknown

NATO/OTAN Logo | Author: Unknown

On March 4th , as the military aircraft from the NATO base in Aviano, Italy approached the skies of Albania, many people in Kucova, a small town in the south of the country were reminded of the past lives of their air base site. Manned and equipped by the Soviets first, the air base hosted MIG aircraft at a time when Albania stood isolated and under the grip of one of the harshest communist regimes in Europe. Even the town of Kucova was renamed at that communist fever time as “town of Stalin”.

Fast forward to 2024, Albania marks and celebrates its 15th anniversary of NATO accession. This anniversary serendipitously corresponds with the Alliance's 75th year of establishment.

Today the airbase of Kucova, a hub of coordination, training and logistics, will now serve exclusively NATO aircraft. NATO has invested around 50 million euros (and the Albanian government has invested another 5 million euros) to revamp the base which will now serve as a logistical, refueling and coordination base for NATO needs. All the key infrastructure including tower, runway and relevant buildings were redone to fit the purpose of the new use.

A launch ceremony attended by NATO and Albanian officials showcased aircraft and drones as well as was marked by speeches that underlined the symbolic and real significance of the development. Minister of Defense of Italy and Lieutenant General from Turkey, two strategic partners of Albania and two key members of NATO, were present alongside multiple high level representatives from the NATO headquarters. Another important presence was that of the head of the Bayraktar drones company from Turkey. The use of military drones has marked the new era of security technological innovation which Albania aspires to catch up to.


Regional security in focus

With this airbase and a future potential naval base in Albania’s southern coast (still under discussion) Albania steps up as the key regional security hub in the Western Balkans for NATO. In the context of a grueling war in the continent, as the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine does not show signs of ending, Albania’s position as a stable and dedicated anchor of security in a region infamous for its vulnerability to Russian influence is a remarkable development.  Out of the 6 countries in the region, Albania has been the first to join NATO followed later by North Macedonia and Montenegro. 

A particular vulnerable point when it comes to Russian influence is Serbia, which in addition to not imposing any sanctions on Russia, since 2012 hosts in the city of Nis a so-called ‘Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center’, which for regional security experts has less to do with humanitarian reasons and more with a presence of Russian hardcore power in the Balkans.

Albania stands on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. It has solidified its stance on the security and foreign policy not only aligning it 100 percent with that of the Euro-Atlantic partners but also taking a visible and vocal role during its mandate as a non-permanent member of the UNSC. Albania has received the green light to open accession negotiations with the European Union and is expecting the opening of the very first chapters of the fundamentals’ cluster.

Whether this airbase will be contained to its logistical and coordination role or rise to the ambition of perhaps serving as a potential training site for Ukrainian soldiers, as mentioned by Albanian deputy prime minister Balluku, this remains the key military and strategic investment of NATO for the future of the country as well as a statement for the entire region.



Alba Cela is the Executive Director of the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS) and an editor at the Tirana Observatory : Foreign Policy and IR.


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