A Cardboard Castle? An Inside History of the Warsaw Pact, 1955-1991

By Vojtech Mastny; Malcolm Byrne | Go to book overview

Document No. 13: The Soviet–Albanian Dispute,
March 22–June 3, 1961

The following materials help to understand the background of the dispute between the USSR and Albania. The clash arose in 1960 from incidents that took place at the Vlorë naval base in the Adriatic, the Warsaw Pact's only such base in the Mediterranean basin. It is not entirely clear who started the quarrel but it was more likely the style than the substance of the Soviets' overbearing behavior—mirrored in the Albanian defense minister's almost insolent tone in his letter to Soviet Marshal Grechko—that provoked Tirana to seize several Soviet vessels, including submarines. No doubt the Albanians believed they could take advantage of the fact that they were out of easy reach because of their remote geographical position.

Not surprisingly, the PCC ruled in Moscow's favor, in part out of a concern that Tirana's behavior, which included leveling accusations of a plot against it by Greece and the United States, could lead to a provocation that might drag the Warsaw Pact into an unwanted conflict with NATO. But the Soviets did not get full satisfaction. The cri- sis escalated in April 1961 when Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin notified Albanian leader Enver Hoxha of Moscow's decision to withdraw all its ships. Albanian forces blocked the base, deployed artillery and even boarded a submarine that was under Soviet command. Eventually, some ships were allowed to leave, but the Albanians kept four submarines and about a dozen smaller craft as well as a considerable amount of arms and equipment. The two countries ultimately severed diplomatic ties over a variety of issues, and Albania, despite its insistence that it was a loyal member of the alliance, was removed from participation in Warsaw Pact councils in December 1961. After the inva- sion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Albanians withdrew from the alliance altogether.

a) Albanian Memorandum on Incidents at the Vlorë Naval Base, March 22, 1961

1. On February 24, 1961, Mehmet Shehu, the chairman of the Council of Ministers of the People's Republic of Albania, at the earlier request of P. N. Pospelov, the head of the delegation of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to the fourth congress of the Albanian Party of Labor, received the representative of the Unified Command of the Warsaw Pact, Col. Gen. A.M. Andreev. At this meeting, Col. Gen. Andreev raised a series of questions concerning the status of relations between Albanian and Soviet personnel at the naval base on Vlorë Bay which, to quote him, had become a hindrance to the battle-readiness of that base.

Related to this, on February 28, 1961, the representative of the Unified Command sent a letter to the chairman of the Council of Ministers of the People's Republic of Albania, in which he forwarded information about "an abnormal situation" between the Albanian and Soviet personnel on that base.

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