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21 Aug, 2022 17:51

‘Alleged spies’ arrested after security breach in NATO country – media

Two Russians and a Ukrainian have been detained in Albania after one of them entered the grounds of a former military plant
‘Alleged spies’ arrested after security breach in NATO country – media

A host of Western media outlets reported on Sunday that a group of alleged “Kremlin spies” had been arrested in Albania, a NATO member state. On Saturday, Albanian police detained two Russians and a Ukrainian after one of them sought to gain entry to the grounds of a decommissioned military factory not far from the Balkan country’s capital of Tirana. 

Outlets such as ABC, Fox News and RFE/RL referred to “alleged spies” in covering the incident on Sunday. Politico called the three detained people “suspected Kremlin spies” in its headline, while the British Daily Express went as far as to run a headline reading: “Putin humiliated after Russian spies caught red handed trying to enter weapons factory.”

However, the Albanian authorities have not yet assigned blame for what they call “the incident at the Gramsh plant.” Neither the country’s Defense Ministry nor the law enforcement authorities have officially labeled any suspect a ‘spy’. Both Defense Minister Niko Peleshi and Prime Minister Edi Rama called on the public and media not to “rush to conclusions” and wait until all the details of the incident have come to light. 

According to the Albanian Defense Ministry’s statement issued on Sunday, a man “illegally crossed” a fence and entered the grounds of the Gramsh plant, which was a factory that produced AK-47 assault rifles before the fall of communism. According to Peleshi, the plant, which has been used to repair or salvage old assault rifles since the 1990s, “has not been in operation for years.” 

Having entered the grounds of the factory, the trespasser was approached by two soldiers guarding the facility but “reacted violently” and used “a spray” that left the soldiers “injured,” the ministry said. Peleshi, who visited them in the hospital on Sunday, said that both were “in good health.” 

Police promptly arrived at the scene and arrested both the trespasser, who, according to the AP, was a 24-year-old Russian citizen, and two more people, who were “in a car” not far from the plant. They were identified as a Russian woman, 33, and a Ukrainian man, 25, the AP reported. 

The Defense Ministry stopped short of calling any of the detained individuals a spy. Still, Peleshi said that the event “cannot be passed off as an ordinary incident,” given “the wider regional … and political context.” “We cannot rush to conclusions,” he said, adding that the Albanian Military Intelligence, Military Police, State intelligence Service, the national police and an anti-terrorism security service have launched a joint investigation into the incident.

“It is abnormal to treat such events as if they were everyday local politics,” Peleshi said, adding that the breach might yet turn out to be part of a “much bigger issue.” Rama also thanked the two injured factory guards for “neutralizing the three individuals suspected of espionage.” 

Some Western media were quick to remind readers that this was not the first such incident involving Russians in Albania. Last summer, two Russian citizens were “caught” near the Albanian Kucova Air Base while carrying a drone, Politico said. According to the outlet, in both cases the suspects had entered the country as tourists.