Russia’s largest motorbike club heads to Crimea: ‘Wherever the Night Wolves are, that should be considered Russia’
The Night Wolves are Russia’s largest motorbike club, with over 5,000 members.
Fiercely patriotic, they believe that “wherever the Night Wolves are, that should be considered Russia”.
On Saturday, the Night Wolves organized a mass ride from the northeast of Ukraine through the Russian speaking eastern regions to the Crimea.
They wanted to hand out supplies to pro-Russian militia forces there.
A member of the club's local chapter said: “We don’t want what happened in Kiev to happen here. Nazis and bandits have seized power there. And if we have to fight, we’ll fight with everything we can get our hands on.”
So it’s odd that Russian President Vladimir Putin has struck up an enduring friendship with the group’s leader, Alexander Zaldostanov, a man nicknamed ‘The Surgeon’.
Indeed, Mr. Putin’s links to the group are considerable enough that he was accidentally put on a blacklist by Finnish authorities, banning him from entering the country.
Finnish authorities later said it had been a big mistake and they had ordered the banning order to be removed.
Mr. Putin first met the bike group in 2009 – a stunt that his detractors viewed as another of his macho photo opportunities.
But Mr. Putin’s links to the group seem sincere.
Mr. Putin was once four hours late for a meeting with former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych because he had been touring the Crimea with Mr. Zaldostanov.
Last year, Mr. Putin awarded Mr. Zaldostanov with an Order of Honor for his “active work in the patriotic upbringing of the young”.
In return, Mr. Zaldostanov has praised the President for his attempts to "restore Russia's greatness".
In 2011 a leather-clad Putin led a column of Night Wolves into the Russian city of Novorossiysk for a bike show.
The group’s rallies and rides have become an increasing show of Russian soft power in Eastern Europe.
Following feminist group Pussy Riot’s ‘punk prayer’ in a Moscow cathedral, the Night Wolves offered to guard Orthodox cathedrals against any further ‘hooliganism’.
The group’s political links have also led to clashes with rival motorbike groups.
One of their members was killed last November in a shoot-out with the Three Roads club.
The Three Roads’s leader, Yebgeny Vorobyev, said the shoot-out had begun over his group’s decision to end ties with the wolves in favor of a U.S. based club called the Bandidos.
He added that the Wolves had become too politicized.