Suspected Kremlin spies arrested in Albania after assault at military base

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Three suspected Kremlin spies have been arrested in Albania after an attack on two guards at a military base with what is believed to be a chemical agent.

Two Russians and one Ukrainian citizen were taken into custody on Saturday, while the two Albanian soldiers are receiving hospital treatment, according to local media reports.

One man was spotted with a camera and trying to take pictures at the perimeter of the arms manufacturing plant in the town of Gramsh, about 80 kilometers south of the capital of Tirana.

When the guards confronted him, he sprayed a neuro-paralyzing agent at the soldiers, according to an announcement from the Çekin Military Plant in Gramsh, reported Top Channel.

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The police received information that this man was not alone and immediately set up checkpoints and blocked a vehicle with another Russian and a Ukrainian citizen, who are also in police custody, the news site reported. The three are a Russian man aged 24, a Russian woman aged 33, and a Ukrainian man aged 25, according to the report.

It’s not the first time suspected Russian agents have infiltrated the Mediterranean country, which is a member of NATO, for military intelligence gathering or attacks. Last summer, two Russian citizens were caught in the outer perimeter of the Kučova air base, carrying a drone.

On both occasions, the suspected spies entered as tourists, under rules which allow Russians to enter without a visa for the summer holiday period — a loophole which some are now calling to be scrapped.

Albania, an EU candidate country, is a firm supporter of Ukrainian sovereignty. At a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg last month, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said they “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.”

He added that, “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.”

Albania was one of the first allied parliaments to ratify Finland’s and Sweden’s accession protocols to NATO. Earlier this year, NATO began efforts to transform the former communist-era air base of Kučova from an aircraft cemetery into a a modern station for operations in the Western Balkans, EuroNews reported.