After one of them entered the grounds of a former military factory, Albanian authorities captured two Russians, a Ukrainian, and a third.
On Sunday, numerous Western media sites reported that Albania, a NATO member state, had detained a group of supposed "Kremlin spies." Two Russians and a Ukrainian were seized by Albanian police on Saturday when one of them attempted to enter the premises of a closed military factory not far from Tirana, the capital of the Balkan nation.
Several media outlets that covered the incident on Sunday used the phrase "alleged spy," including ABC, Fox News, and RFE/RL. The British Daily Express went so far as to print a banner reading: "Putin embarrassed after Russian spies caught red-handed trying to enter weapons factory." Politico referred to the three detained individuals as "suspected Kremlin spies" in its headline.
Although they refer to it as "the event at the Gramsh plant," the Albanian authorities have not yet ascribed blame. The country's Defense Ministry and law enforcement officials have not formally classified any person as a "spy." Prime Minister Edi Rama and Defense Minister Niko Peleshi both urged people to avoid jumping to conclusions and to wait until all the information about the incident was available.
A guy "illegally passed" a barrier and entered the grounds of the Gramsh plant, which was a facility that manufactured AK-47 assault guns before the fall of communism, according to a statement made by the Albanian Defense Ministry on Sunday. Peles claims that the facility, which has been utilized since the 1990s to fix or salvage used assault rifles, "has not been in service for years."
The trespasser had entered the factory's property when two soldiers patrolling it arrived, but "reacted aggressively" and "used a spray" that caused the troops to suffer injuries," the ministry said. Peleshi claimed they were both "in good health" when he visited them on Sunday in the hospital.
The trespasser, a 24-year-old Russian national, and two additional people who were "in a car" nearby the facility were both detained by police as soon as they got on the scene. They were identified as a Ukrainian guy, 25, and a 33-year-old Russian lady, according to the AP.
The Defense Ministry refrained from labeling any of the arrested people as spies. Nevertheless, Peleshi claimed that given "the wider regional... and political background," the incident "cannot be passed off as an ordinary incident." "We cannot jump to conclusions," he stated, noting that a joint inquiry into the incident has been initiated by the Albanian Military Intelligence, Military Police, State Intelligence Service, National Police, and anti-terrorism security service.
Peles stated that it is "strange to treat such events as if they were regular local politics," adding that the breach might still end up being a "far greater issue." Rama also expressed his gratitude to the two hurt factory guards for "neutralizing the three suspects of espionage."
It was quickly pointed out in some Western media that this was not the first instance of its kind involving Russians in Albania. According to Politico, two Russian nationals were "caught" last summer carrying a drone close to the Albanian Kucova Air Base. The accused had come to the country in both cases as tourists, the site claims.