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News 09 Dec 16

Russia and Terrorism Dominated CIA Chief's Albania Visit

While the exact nature of CIA chief John Brennan's talks with Albanian authorities remains a secret, experts say Russian expansionism and Islamist terror likely dominated the agenda.

Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN
Tirana
John Brennan. Photo: Wikimedia

The unexpected visit of CIA director John Brennan to Tirana has prompted claims that  besides Islamic radicalism, concerns about Russian influence in Albania were also on the agenda.

Skender Minxhozi, editor-in-chief of the Java News portal told BIRN on Thursday that expanding Russian influence in the region was an obvious area of concern for senior US officials, although Albania is a member of NATO and one of the most pro-American countries in the region.

"For the moment, Russian influence in Albania is not a real risk although there is a potential one. I believe that Albania's close allies like the US are discussing potential threats," he said.

Fatos Klosi, former director of the Albanian intelligence service, SHISH, told Mapo newspaper on Wednesday that visits of this level are mainly related to regional politics in which Russia clearly has a role.

"This country is seeking to spread its political and economic influence. Albania is the first gateway for Russia to the Mediterranean," he noted.

The risk that Russia could try to expand its influence in the region has also been mentioned by Albania's Prime Minister, Edi Rama.

In an interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in November Rama emphasized the need for the EU to remain both secure and open to integration, otherwise gaps could be spotted.

"There are third-party players who can benefit from gaps within the union. I'm talking about Russia and about radical Islam," Rama said.

The US embassy in Tirana said after Brennan left on Wednesday that the CIA director had discussed "a range of issues including regional security, counterterrorism cooperation, intelligence sharing, and other bilateral affairs" with interlocutors.

Brennan praised the efforts made by Muslim-majority Albania to combat Islamic terrorism at a meeting with the General Director of Albania's Police, Haki Cako.

"The collaboration of the Albanian police with other agencies in and outside the country is an example to be followed," Brennan said, confirming the continuity of this collaboration with CIA, according to a police press release issued after the meeting.

Albanian police in collaboration with Kosovo and Macedonian counterparts in November arrested a dozen people on terrorism charges related to a suspected planned attack on the Israeli football team when it played Albania.

While he was in Tirana, Brennan also met Albanian Defence Minister Mimi Kodheli whose ministry is collaborating with NATO to open a specialist centre for studies on foreign terrorist fighters.

With the creation of this new centre, Albania will be hosting the first such NATO institution in the country after seven years of membership. The centre for studies of foreign terrorist fighters will also be the first of this of its kind anywhere.

Albania's government recently also appointed a National Coordinator on the war against the violent extremism.

The CIA director visited Bosnia and Herzegovina in April to discuss terrorist issues with that country's authorities and possible US help in this field.

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