Suspected Kremlin spies arrested in Albania after military base attack

Three people suspected of spying for the Kremlin have been arrested in Albania after they carried out an attack at a military plant on Saturday with what is believed to be a chemical agent that left guards injured, according to media reports.

The suspects, two Russians and one Ukrainian citizen, were taken into custody while the two Albanian guards were hospitalized and are being treated for their eye injuries.

One of the suspects, a 24-year-old man identified as M.Z., was spotted with a camera as he tried to take photos of the perimeter of the arms manufacturing plant in the Albanian town of Gramsh.

The suspect jumped the fence of the Gramsh factory, which is used for dismantling derelict weapons, and attacked the guards who confronted him by spraying a neuro-paralyzing agent, an announcement from the Cekin Miitary Plant in Gramsh stated, according to a report by Top Channel.

“The Russian national reacted physically and he also used a spray which injured the two soldiers, who managed to warn the police,” Albanian Minister of Defense Niko Peleshi was quoted as saying after visiting the soldiers in the hospital.

This handout picture taken and released by Albanian Ministry of Defence shows Albanian Defense Minister Niko Peleshi (L) chating with military member Aldo Bici in a hospital in Tirana on August 21, 2022. (AFP)
This handout picture taken and released by Albanian Ministry of Defence shows Albanian Defense Minister Niko Peleshi (L) chating with military member Aldo Bici in a hospital in Tirana on August 21, 2022. (AFP)

Another Russian aged 33 identified as S.T. and a 25-year-old Ukrainian identified as F.A. were also arrested in a car near the factory.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said the three were “suspected of espionage.”

“What pride for the military guards who neutralized three individuals suspected of espionage. Now let’s wait for the full clarification of this event,” Rama said on Twitter, praising the two guards.

“This is an incident that needs to be treated in a broader regional and political context,” Peleshi added.

“It cannot be dismissed as an ordinary incident but we should not rush to conclusions either.”

Albanian news channel Vizion Plus identified the two suspected Russian spies as Svetlana Timofeeva and Mikhail Zorin.

This is not the first time suspected Russian spies have attempted to infiltrate Albania, which has been a NATO member since 2009, for military intelligence gathering or attacks, online news media Politico reported.

Last year, two Russians were caught carrying a drone in the outer perimeter of the Kucova air base.

In both instances, the suspected Russian agents entered the country as tourists under rules which allow Russians to enter the Balkan country without a visa for the summer holiday period, a loophole which some are now pushing to be scrapped.

The NATO member country is a firm supporter of Ukrainian sovereignty. In a meeting with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in July, Albanian Prime Minister Rama said that they “stand in full solidarity with Ukraine, and of course it foes without even saying that our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, within the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine, is as firm as ever.”

Rama also added that it was “important” to continue the conversation about the situation, “as well as the obligations we have in the Western Balkans to exactly prevent every escalation and prevent every bad influence become a trouble for our region.”

Albania was also one of the first allied parliaments to ratify Sweden and Finland’s NATO bids, a move which has intensified tensions with Russia.

Russia invaded Ukraine in what it called a “special military operation” on February 24.

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