Soviets bully Albania over its one Balkan base

Continuing from yesterday, excerpts from classified Soviet archives on the Balkans, published by the Institute of Balkan Studies in Thessaloniki and reproduced in this paper, deal with the crisis in Soviet-Albanian relations following the death of Stalin. After 1945, Albania was not only the Soviet Union’s observation post on the Adriatic Sea but its military bridgehead as well. At the port of Vlore (Avlona), the Soviets constructed a large submarine base, their only military facility in the Mediterranean Sea, which served as their base of operations for observing and monitoring American naval forces. After the denunciation of Stalin and the rapprochement between Belgrade and Moscow, Albanian leader Enver Hoxha began to hurl accusations of revisionism, opportunism, social imperialism against Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev and to flirt with China. In turn, the Kremlin used the Vlore base to blackmail its uppity comrades in Tirana. Well aware of the regime’s paranoid fear of supposedly imminent imperialistic attack, the Soviets threatened to close the base if the Albanians refused to allow it to operate with only Soviet sailors, and not with mixed crews as provided for in the agreement. The document that follows (marked classified) gives the minutes of the discussion at the crucial meeting of the Warsaw Pact’s Political Consultative Committee on March 29, 1961. The meeting continues. Comrade Ulbricht presiding. Nikita Sergeievich Khrushchev, head of the Soviet delegation, is to speak. KHRUSHCHEV: Dear comrades, I would like to make certain observations with respect to the actions of the Albanian comrades, who recently have deviated from the agreed foreign policy line of the countries of the socialist bloc. (…) The naval base at Vlore can no longer practically carry out the duties for which it was set up. It has no substantial military capacity, it has been paralyzed. Under present circumstances, keeping it has no meaning. The Vlore base has proved to be source of friction and has therefore resulted in even worse relations with Albania. Apart from this, given the present conditions at the base, we have no guarantee against possible provocation. If the Albanian comrades believe that the continued sojourn of our sailors and fleet is essential to the Warsaw Pact and above all, the defense of Albania, then they must agree that the base will accommodate only Soviet sailors… [EAST GERMAN HEAD OF STATE WALTER] ULBRICHT: The head of the delegation from the People’s Republic of Albania, [Defense Minister] Beqir Balluku, has asked to speak. BALLUKU:. ..The Vlore naval base, which was set up on the initiative of the Central Committee of the Party of Labor of Albania and with joint obligations by the Albanian and Soviet governments that were defined by a common agreement, is the only base the socialist bloc possesses in the Mediterranean Sea and is of huge importance to the defense of Albania and all socialist countries. The existence of this base on the shores of the Adriatic means the southern borders of the socialist bloc are not to be found in the Black Sea but at Gibraltar. Dismantling this base would benefit only the enemies of the socialist bloc and the Soviet Union. That’s why we insist on a joint Soviet-Albanian base on Albanian soil, according to the terms of the agreements that have been signed. Bone of contention KHRUSHCHEV: Dear comrades, I’m obliged to make a statement. This is not a question of big or small countries. We went to Albania after an invitation by the Party of Labor of Albania and the government. I was the head of the Soviet delegation. We embraced, we kissed, comrade Enver Hoxha and I. I believed him. I sincerely trusted him. When the Albanian economy had to be reconstructed, the comrades appealed to us and we sent them, without having received any formal request, everything that was needed. Now, comrades, they want to inculpate the USSR. It is not feasible for the base to stay there any further. The base has become a bone of contention. What can we expect in the future? We say, «Here there is an irregularity;» you say, «Everything is regular.» You say, «Why are you bitter, what do you want?» We say to you, «If we are a large country, can a small country come and spit at us and we simply wipe it off and and ask, ‘What are you doing?’» No, we’re not like that. This base is vitally necessary to us, but it has been paralyzed for over a year now. The way we have ended up, it’s a mere fleabite for the Americans, which is why the American Sixth Fleet must always be happy about it. But what has remained, comrades? Twelve submarines, with old equipment, I might add, which is now obsolete, because they [the submarines] are equipped with old underwater torpedoes. These are weapons, as the sailors know, which date back to the civil war and have a range of 5-7 kilometers. We are jettisoning this equipment now, because we are equipping our submarines with air missiles, which have a range of dozens and hundreds of kilometers, and target guided missiles. (…) We can, without a base, have such equipment… and we will make our presence felt to the Americans… The submarine fleet is not decisive for the balance of power. Fortunately for us, (…) we are equipped with very good missiles, as we have demonstrated.

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