Pro-Putin 'Night Wolves' bikers stopped at Polish border
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A group of leather-clad Russian bikers hoping to ride to Berlin to mark the anniversary of the Soviet victory in World War II were stopped at the Polish border on Monday and told they could go no further.
The bikers include members of the “Night Wolves”, a fiercely nationalist club closely linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin. They want to retrace the Red Army’s 6,000-kilometre route through Belarus, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria.
"They refused entry to Poland for all participants," said Andrei Bobrovsky, head of the group of 10 bikers, adding that Polish officials had carried out a three-hour search of all their belongings.
Wearing sunglasses and black leather jacket adorned with "Road of Victory" patches, Bobrovsky said the bikers' much touted arrival at the Polish border was met with "a lot of special forces" and helicopters hovering overhead.
"It was not very nice treatment," he said, suggesting that Europe was "scared" that their ride would lead to a growth of pro-Russian sentiments.
The bikers did not meet the necessary criteria to be allowed entry into Poland, Polish border guard spokesman Dariusz Sienicki told reporters at the Terespol border post.
He did not elaborate but said individuals could be denied entry for lacking identification documents, a visa or a stated reason for the trip.
Dozens of Polish bikers, who said they were grateful to the Night Wolves for their hospitality during earlier rallies in Russia, were waiting to welcome them at the border Monday.
"The Polish authorities' decision is outrageous," Polish biker Wiktor Wegrzyn told AFP, adding that the Poles would ride to Berlin in place of the Night Wolves and leave flowers at war memorials along the way.
Russian state channels closely followed the bikers' setback at the border, some providing live coverage.
The planned rally -- which had set off on Saturday from Moscow -- sparked anger in Poland, a strong supporter of Ukraine's pro-Western government and formerly under Moscow's thumb during the Soviet era.
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.
Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz described the planned trip to Berlin as a "provocation" and the foreign ministry last week refused entry to "an organised biker group that includes members of the Night Wolves".
Russia's foreign ministry said it was "indignant" and accused Warsaw of lying about the real reasons it was barring the bikers.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)