Russians, Ukrainians alleged spies for Kremlin arrested at Albania base after guards doused in chemical agent

Russians, Ukrainians alleged spies for Kremlin arrested at Albania base after guards doused in chemical agent

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Three accused spies for the Kremlin were arrested in the NATO-member country of Albania on Saturday following an attack on two guards at a military base with a suspected chemical agent.

Two Russians and a Ukrainian citizen have been arrested for alleged espionage at Çekin Military Plant, an arms manufacturing plant in southern Albania, the Albanian Defense Ministry said late Saturday.

The first Russian suspect — a 24-year-old man identified only as MZ — was detained after entering the plant’s grounds in Gramsh, about 50 miles south of the capital, Tirana, and taking photos, the ministry said in a statement. Two military guards were injured by a “neo-paralyzing spray” used by the Russians while resisting arrest, according to the ministry. They were taken to a military hospital for medical care.

Police quickly set up checkpoints and blocked a vehicle with the other two suspects inside.

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The second Russian suspect — a 33-year-old woman identified as ST — and a 25-year-old ukrainian man identified as FA were arrested outside the complex, the ministry said.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama speaks at a joint press conference with his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez not in the picture in Tirana, Albania, on Aug.  1, 2022.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama speaks at a joint press conference with his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez not in the picture in Tirana, Albania, on Aug. 1, 2022.
(Gent Onuzi/Xinhua via Getty Images)

“Three persons were accompanied by police which in cooperation with other institutions is investigating the case,” the statement said, adding that military police, army intelligence police and civil and anti-terror police are coordinating on the case.

The Gramsh military plant opened in 1962 to produce AK-47, or Kalashnikov, rifles. After the fall of communism in 1990, it stopped production and instead began to dismantle old Kalashnikovs and other small weapons. It also repairs other army weapons.

British soldiers take part in the Swift Response 22 military exercise at the Krivolak Military Training Center in Negotino, in the center of North Macedonia, on May 12, 2022. The exercise, which involves approximately 4,600 soldiers from North Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Greece , Italy, as well as France, the UK and the US, is meant to show that NATO forces can be deployed and fully cooperate.

British soldiers take part in the Swift Response 22 military exercise at the Krivolak Military Training Center in Negotino, in the center of North Macedonia, on May 12, 2022. The exercise, which involves approximately 4,600 soldiers from North Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Greece , Italy, as well as France, the UK and the US, is meant to show that NATO forces can be deployed and fully cooperate.
(ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

“What pride for the military guards who neutralized three individuals suspected of espionage,” Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on Twitter, adding: “Now let’s wait for the full clarification of this event.”

Politico noted that the suspects entered Albania as tourists under a loophole that allows Russians into the country during the summer holiday period without a visa – a rule that’s gotten scrutiny following the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. Last year, two other suspected Kremlin spies entered Albania the same way before they were taken into custody after being spotted with a drone outside the former communist-era air base of Kučova air base, which NATO reportedly recently has begun transforming from an aircraft cemetery into a modern station for operations in the Western Balkans.

Albania, a NATO member since 2009, has strongly renounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has joined European Union and US sanctions against Moscow.

Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, left, the Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, center, and the President of Spain, Pedro Sanchez, right, in the opening ceremony of the NATO Summit in Madrid, Spain.

Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, left, the Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, center, and the President of Spain, Pedro Sanchez, right, in the opening ceremony of the NATO Summit in Madrid, Spain.
(Celestino Arce/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

During a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg last month, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said he and his country “firmly stand in full solidarity with Ukraine, and of course, it goes 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,” according to Politico.

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“It is important that we continue our conversation vis-à-vis 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,” Rama added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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