Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s request for Albania to tighten sanctions on Russia by closing its ports to Russian ships and restricting Russian tourists flow prompted opposition allegations of hypocrisy toward the Albanian government in relation to Ukraine.
“I ask you to close your ports to Russian ships, and to restrict arrivals of Russian tourists,” Zelenskyy told the Albanian parliament on Tuesday, while speaking of an expected sixth package of sanctions currently being discussed by the European Union.
Albania was Zelenskyy’s first choice among Western Balkan countries to address and show Ukraine’s appreciation over its unwavering support, particularly since the latest Russian invasion this year.
As Prime Minister Edi Rama noted in his speech today, his government has thrown unwavering support behind Ukraine’s resistance against Russia, particularly at the OSCE and UN Security Council, while it remains committed to use its NATO seat at the benefit of Ukraine, in line with other partners’ decisions.
Echoing Kosovo’s plight at the hands of brutal Serbian troops, Rama told Zelenskyy that Albanians the Ukrainian people’s pain hits close to home, as they had welcomed over half a million fellow Albanians from Kosovo who fled Serbian massacres in 1999. He also recalled Kosovo’s immediate and full solidarity with Ukraine after the launch of Russian invasion.
Moreover, since the February invasion, the Rama government has imposed sanctions on Russia, in alignment with the European Union. They include hundreds of individuals, and dozens of companies operating in finance, energy, transport and technology sectors.
The first thing Rama noted in his speech following that of Zelenskyy – the unanimity of support for Ukraine in the Albanian parliament – didn’t survive for long after the parliamentary session.
Zelenskyy’s request for Albania to limit access to Russian tourists was quickly picked up by opposition leader Sali Berisha, who accused Rama of hypocrisy in relation to Ukraine. He asked the government to ban entry of Russian tourists in Albania, expel the Russian ambassador and call the Albanian ambassador in Moscow back home.
Rama removed visa requirements for Russian citizens only two weeks ago, ahead of the tourist season in Albania.
“Imagine, there will be murderers, rapists, Cains, who after massacres they’ve committed will flock to our beaches to regain energy and recover. [Removing visa requirements for Russians] was a grave insult to Albanians. You also heard President Zelenskyy’s speech, and this was his request also,” he emphatically stated.
Berisha also berated Rama’s Open Balkan initiative, spearheaded by the prime minister and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, which he called “anti-European” and “a Russo-Serbian idea” that allegedly gives Russia access to the Western Balkans through its close ally Serbia.
The ruling Socialist Party chief whip Taulant Balla dismissed the opposition leader’s allegations as “populist balloons,” and reiterated that “Berisha does not exist”.
Prime Minister Edi Rama and his party have been denying Berisha’s existence in their public engagements since the latter launched a successful initiative to take over the Democratic Party, when he was banished from the party following his designation over corruption by the US State Department. Rama now exclusively refers to the 78-year-old opposition leader as “the dead one”.