Amid worrying conditions, the implications of NATO’s inauguration of the “Kuchova” base in Albania Amid worrying conditions, the implications of NATO’s inauguration of the “Kuchova” base in Albania

Amid worrying conditions, the implications of NATO’s inauguration of the “Kuchova” base in Albania

Amid worrying conditions, the implications of NATO’s inauguration of the “Kuchova” base in Albania

NATO inaugurated the "Kuchova" air base in Albania, which is the first base in the Western Balkans, which raises several questions about the significance of the step, in light of a turbulent security context, marked by the entry of the Russian-Ukrainian war into its third year.
The base inherited from the Soviet era in Koçova, Albania, was opened during a ceremony on Monday, March 4, amid a high-ranking official presence, and the base was transformed into a regional center for air operations for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

This step comes after the base was renovated and equipped with a NATO air force, which was considered a "strategic investment" that is in the interest of the alliance.

Koçova is the first NATO base in Albania, which joined the alliance in 2003, and it is also the first regional center for the alliance in the Western Balkans, which raises several questions about the implications of the move and its timing, especially as it comes after the Russian-Ukrainian war entered its third year.


Opening of the first NATO base in Albania

The Koçova base, located 80 kilometers south of the Albanian capital, Tirana, was reopened after the country's government officially closed it in 2005, and will be used as a modern center for future NATO air operations, such as logistical support, training and exercises.

The official opening of the base was attended by Albanian President Bajram Begaj, Prime Minister Edi Rama, in addition to Speaker of Parliament Lindita Nikola, and Defense Minister Niko Peleshi. Also present on behalf of NATO were the Commander of the Joint Air Operations Center and Director General of the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA), Stacy Cummings. The Italian Defense Minister, Guido Crosetto, and other high-level officials spoke at the ceremony.

In his speech during the base's opening, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama celebrated the event, saying it was "another element of security in our region, in the Western Balkans, which we know very well is vulnerable to threats from Russia's neo-imperial ambitions."

Rehabilitation work on the Koçova base began in 2019, at a cost of approximately 50 million euros, in what was considered to be the largest NATO project in Albania in the past decade. Dylan White, acting NATO spokesman, said that Koçova “will be an important air center for NATO.”

He added during his opening speech, “The renovation of the Kočova Air Base is a strategic investment, and shows that NATO continues to strengthen its presence in the Western Balkans, a region of strategic importance to the Alliance.”

After the speeches delivered by the officials at the ceremony, two American F-16 planes and two F-35 fighter planes, which had moved from Aviano Air Base in Italy, took off, while two Eurofighter planes landed. The Prime Minister said Al-Albani said that his country had also offered and discussed with NATO the establishment of a naval base in the west of the country.


What is the significance of Kučova's opening?

The opening of NATO's first air base in Albania and the stationing of its forces in the Western Balkans raises many questions about the implications of the step, especially as it coincides with the major security threats that the Russian-Ukrainian war casts a shadow over the countries of Europe and the alliance, with that war continuing for its third year.

Dr. Muhammad Suleiman Al-Zawawi, a lecturer at the Middle East Institute at Sakarya University, believes that the importance of opening the base lies in “its proximity to the theater of the Russian-Ukrainian war, as well as as a tactical base for NATO forces that allows rapid air deployment in the Eastern European region.”

In his conversation with TRT news, Al-Zawawi pointed out that the base “contains a Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone, which has high capabilities in reconnaissance, espionage, and information gathering, in addition to its combat capabilities.”

The political science expert adds, “The importance of the base stems from the fact that it completes the process of encircling Russia in Eastern Europe, where NATO forces extend north from the three Baltic countries of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, and continue down to Poland, Slovakia, then Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, and the Albanian base comes to connect to the European defensive wall.” To the south".

He continues: The base also overlooks the Adriatic Sea, and represents a link between it and the main NATO base at the Aviano base in Italy, and then works to enhance the alliance’s supplies across Europe.

Al-Zawawi explains that the opening of the base is “a message directed to Russia, in case it intends to expand the scope of its operations in the Balkan region, in support of Serbia, for example,” as it represents “an increase in the alliance’s influence in countries traditionally affiliated with Eastern Europe and in which Russia had a strong influence.”

He points out that this is considered "the message stated by the Albanian Defense Minister at the opening of the military base, in which he stressed the importance of strengthening regional security by joining a winning equation, in reference to NATO."

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