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Albania. Two Russians and a Ukrainian accused of spying for Russia. They were detained on the site of a former weapons factory

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The case of three young people, two Russians and a Ukrainian, detained for trespassing into an abandoned arms factory in Albania is a mystery to the local authorities. Among the detainees is a popular Russian instagrammer. The woman testified that the group only wanted to photograph the dilapidated Cold War facility as part of a documentary project. A Russian woman applied for asylum in Albania, saying she feared persecution in Russia, which is demanding her extradition. Meanwhile, another of those arrested confessed to spying for Moscow. Who is lying and who is telling the truth?

In August 2022, two Russians and one Ukrainian were detained in a military unit in Gramsh, 80 km south of Tirana. The dilapidated arms factory there has been out of operation for decades, but is still guarded by the military.

None of the detainees have been charged so far, but all three have been in custody since August. They are suspected of spying for Russia. In early March, a court in the Albanian city of Elbasan extended their pre-trial detention for another three months.

One of the detainees, 33-year-old Russian Svetlana Timofoyeva, explained that the group was only trying to photograph a former communist military facility as part of a project documenting buildings from the Cold War era.

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“The Theater of the Absurd”

New York Times journalist Andrew Higgins, who covered the case, noted that the group – for alleged spies – was very indiscreet. “They drove a bright orange Chavroleten Canaria to the site of an abandoned Albanian arms factory in broad daylight,” the New York Daily reported.

One of them, 24-year-old Russian Mikhail Zorin, was spotted by a guard protecting the facility. Trying to avoid being arrested, the man used pepper spray on him, but he was captured nonetheless. Interestingly, during the interrogation, he admitted that he was a Russian spy.

“Either out of honesty, or out of dishonest desire to tell the interrogating officers what they wanted to hear” – assessed the journalist “NYT”.

“If he’s a spy, he’s a very stupid one,” Zorin’s lawyer, Isuf Shehu, told Albanian media. He described the investigation into the “theatre of the absurd, as in Kafka’s Trial”.

Prime Minister Albania Edi Rama in one of the interviews found it quite strange that anyone would want to conduct espionage activities on the premises of a decaying and long-defunct military factory, where there are no secrets to be stolen. Rama added, however, that Albania, as a member FOR THISmust take seriously any suspicion of espionage from Moscow.

Request for extradition

Although the case seems quite strange, and the spying abilities of the detainees are questionable, there are elements of this story that make us suspect that the Kremlin really had a hand in this.

Shortly after the three were detained, Moscow sent a request to the Albanian authorities for the extradition of one of them, 33-year-old Svetlana Timofoyeva. According to the New York Times, she is a popular Russian photographer, known on social media as Lana Sator. The Russian girl on Instagram is followed by more than 250,000 users.

The extradition request states that the woman is wanted in Russia in connection with a 2018 case of illegal intrusion into an underground military facility in Czechsa city south of Moscow where a nuclear command center was located during the Cold War.

According to the Albanian prosecutor conducting the investigation, it is suspicious that Moscow “dusted off the old case” so quickly to justify a request to send Timofeeva back to Russia. As he noted, quoted by “NYT”, extradition is “one of the ways to save his people” by the Russian authorities.

But Timofeeva has no desire to return to Russia at all. At least that’s what her lawyer says.

A Russian woman asks for asylum

A Russian woman detained in Albania on suspicion of espionage asked for asylum because of fears of persecution in Russia, the Albanian editorial office of Radio Free Europe reported on Tuesday.

“If I return to Russia, I will be persecuted because of my political views,” she said, justifying her request. Her lawyer explained that the asylum request stemmed from allegations of espionage that had also been brought against her in Russia.

“There is a risk that Timofeeva will be subjected to harassment, degrading treatment and actions in Russia that openly violate human rights. Her return to Russia would be contrary to the prohibition of inhumane treatment.”

An Albanian court issued an arrest warrant in August for those detained on charges of “collecting military and other data that could be provided to a third country.”

Main photo source: EPA/YURI KOCHETKOV

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