Two Russian citizens and one Ukrainian citizen who were arrested trying to enter a restricted military zone and then spraying military guards with apparent nerve paralysis spray have been formally charged with espionage by the Albanian state police.
The incident took place at Gramsh military plant on Saturday. After being spotted around the perimeter of the defunct plant, now a weapons storage and disassembling facility, they were approached by guards. One suspect turned on officers and sprayed them with a substance that caused temporary blindness, but eventually, all three were arrested.
According to police, they have been charged with two counts of espionage, and the items seized as evidence include laptops, drones, mobile phones, and a reported espionage device disguised as a camera.
It is reported that the individuals had entered Albania as tourists as Russian citizens do not require a visa during the summer months. Furthermore, it is believed they had been photographing the site for several days before the incident.
Albanian authorities have requested the Russian Embassy and Ukrainian Embassy in Tirana to provide in-depth information about the citizens involved.
The incident, which made headlines worldwide, was quickly followed by another, this time at a defunct military factor in Polican.
According to the Ministry of Defence, the incident occurred at around 8:40 on Sunday morning in one of the tunnels of the plant.
“Immediately, the Military Police, in cooperation with the State Police, isolated the entrances to the tunnels, which are almost all communicating with each other, and after searches, they arrested two people of Czech nationality. Around 12:30, at a distance of 1.5 km from the tunnels outside the perimeter of the department’s perimeter, two citizens of Czech nationality, cohabitants of the above two citizens, were found and accompanied,” the police explained.
The Ministry added that the security forces are carrying out procedures and verifications regarding the incident.
According to media reports, the Czech citizens claim they are tourists who got lost.
“We are tourists; we took pictures, lost our way and entered the tunnel. We have no bad intentions.”
The plant in Polican was established in 1962 to produce Kalashnikov weapons, 82mm ammunition, grenades, and anti-personnel mines during the communist era and is currently not active.
The latest incidents occurred amid a backdrop where Russian vessels make a series of manoeuvres in the Adriatic Sea. According to maritime radar data and an interview in La Repubblica with Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Cavo Dragone, three different Russian units entered the area last week.
They include the destroyer Admiral Tributs, the intelligence ship Nikitic Tatishchev and the cruiser Varyag. The frigate Admiral Grigorovich has been operating in the Ionian Sea.
The Italian navy deployed various units via land and air to closely follow the Russian ships. As of Saturday, all teams had left the Adriatic and were located in the Ionian.
Prime Minister Edi Rama reacted to critics who suggested that national security is not at the level it should be.
“The institutions are functioning as they should,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Our Ministry of Defense is in contact with the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Albania. We hope that the ongoing investigations by the Albanian authorities will clarify the circumstances of the incident as soon as possible”, the announcement states.
President Vjosa Osmani also reacted, noting she spoke with Albanian President Bajram Begaj about the attack.
“Wish a speedy recovery to the injured. The perpetrators of this attack must be held accountable. Our institutions stand ready to provide any necessary support,” she wrote on Twitter.
Kurti has long warned of Russian attempts to destabilise the Balkans, including the close allegiance between neighbouring Serbia and the Kremlin.