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‘Night Wolves’ bikers vow to ride to Berlin despite bans

Dmitry Serebryakov, AFP I Alexander Zaldostanov also known as "Khirurg" (The Surgeon), leader of the Night Wolves bikers' club, rides in Moscow on April 25, 2015, at the beginning of a ride through Europe

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-04-26

Dozens of leather-clad Russian bikers from the pro-Putin motorcycle "Night Wolves" club vowed on Saturday to ride to Berlin to mark the anniversary of the Soviet victory in World War II, despite Poland and Germany barring the riders.

The Night Wolves' long-haired, heavily tattooed leader Alexander Zaldostanov led on Saturday a column of bikers waving red flags with portraits of Stalin and the wartime slogan "For the Motherland! For Stalin!" out of the gang's clubhouse in northwestern Moscow.

The group of pro-Putin Russian ultra-nationalists want to retrace the 6,000-kilometre Red Army’s route through Belarus, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria.

Organisers said around 30 bikers aimed to travel the entire route to Berlin, but it was unclear whether they would be allowed to pass through after both Warsaw and Berlin moved to ban the riders. Poland’s Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz slammed the rally as a “provocation” while Germany vowed to cancel visas “obtained under false pretences” by the bikers.

A picture taken on July 7, 2009, shows Vladimir Putin (L), then Russian Prime Minister, listening to the leader of Nochniye Volki (the Night Wolves) biker group, Alexander Zaldostanov (R). Photo: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA NOVOSTI / AFP

The motorcycle club is closely linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has joined the bikers several times at rallies, riding a Harley-Davidson trike, and called them his "friends". Night Wolves bikers rode down en masse to Ukraine's Crimea peninsula just after it was annexed by Russia in March 2014 and members have also fought with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

'We're not afraid'

The bikers said they were not discouraged by the bans.

Zaldostanov, 52, nicknamed "the Surgeon" due to his former profession, told journalists on Saturday: "We won't change our plans or our route."

"If they don't let us all come in together, then we will enter one by one, using numerous different entry points," he added.

But many of the bikers said they had been unable to get visas for Europe's Schengen zone. Zaldostanov said his passport is still at an embassy in Moscow, not specifying which one, and that he did not yet know if he would get the necessary visa for the trip.

The bikers intend to visit war graves and war memorials in the countries they pass through. They also plan to stop at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, built by the Nazis in occupied Poland and liberated by Soviet forces.

"We're not afraid of the welcome we'll get in Berlin. Our grandfathers weren't afraid!" said Alexei Vereshchyagin, a biker who was taking a break from fighting Ukrainian forces in the pro-Russian separatist hub of Lugansk.

The Night Wolves biker group started up in 1989 just before the fall of the USSR and has around 5,000 members across the former Soviet Union.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2015-04-26

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