(Bloomberg) -- Albania’s premier said NATO’s first air base in the country will help cement the Balkan region’s position within the Western military alliance and protect it from Russia’s “neo-imperial” ambitions. 

Prime Minister Edi Rama spoke on Monday as the airbase opened in the southern Albanian town of Kucova to press the Balkan nation’s ambitions to integrate further within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as well as membership in the European Union. 

“It’s another security element for our Western Balkans region, which we know well is not free from threats and the neo-imperial ambitions of the Russian Federation,” Rama said in a speech.

Rama announced the presence of two Black Hawk helicopters as well as three Bayraktar drones at the base, a communist-era airfield constructed in the 1950s, as part of an “ongoing expansion.” Reconstruction began in January 2022 with an investment of about €50 million ($54 million) from NATO and another €5 million from the Albanian government. 

Work is also under way with NATO to swiftly establish a naval base in Porto Romano, on the Albanian coast in Durres, some 36 kilometers (22 miles) from the capital Tirana, Rama said. 

Albanian President Bajram Begaj, also on hand, stressed the fragile security environment in the Balkans, particularly in neighboring Kosovo. He cited an attack in northern Kosovo last September after a standoff involving some 30 armed Serb militants left four people dead, including an ethnic Albanian policeman. 

The attack, which compounded tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, laid bare “fragile security” in the region, Begaj said. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken lauded Albania, which joined NATO in 2009, during a visit to the country last month, citing the country’s “significant contribution” to the transatlantic alliance. 

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