Moscow denounces ‘NATO propaganda’ as Albania probes alleged Russian spies

DEFENDER-Europe 21

THE RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT HAS accused media in Albania of channeling “propaganda”, as authorities in the Balkan country are investigating alleged military espionage by two Russian citizens. The case centers on DEFENDER Europe 21, a large-scale multinational military exercise, which is held every year under the auspices of the United States Army and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). A portion of the exercise, which brings together nearly 30,000 troops from 26 nations, took place in Albania in April and May of this year.

Late last month, reports in the Albanian media said that the Office of the Prosecutor in the capital Tirana was investigating two Russian and five Czech citizens, who may have engaged in espionage activities. According to the reports, one of the Russian citizens had entered Albania on May 12, and traveled to Durres, Albania’s second most populous city, which is centrally located along the country’s Adriatic coast. Durres is the closest urban center to the site of the DEFENDER Europe 21 exercise. A few days later, the Russian citizen was found deploying a drone, according to the Tirana prosecutor.

The Albanian authorities then began looking into the case of another Russian citizen, who had entered the country in March, and was based in Orikum, a small coastal town southern Albania. Like Durres, Orikum is in close proximity to military training facilities. Albanian authorities have not disclosed any information about the fate of the five Czech nationals. But they said last week that a criminal case had been opened against the two Russians.

Last Friday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the Albanian media of “fueling the hype” about the two Russians, adding that the case was “an exercise in NATO propaganda”. Meanwhile, the Russian embassy in Tirana said that it had sent a formal inquiry about the criminal case to Albania’s Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs. Relations between the former Warsaw Pact allies are currently at a low point. In January of this year, Tirana expelled a Russian diplomat, accusing him of ignoring safety protocols relating to COVID-19. In 2018, two Russian diplomats were expelled from Albania after they allegedly engaged in espionage. Shortly afterwards, Moscow expelled two Albanian diplomats in return.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 July 2021 | Permalink