A RUSSIAN biker club with close links to Vladimir Putin has vowed to press ahead with a controversial 3,700-mile rally from Moscow to Berlin despite Polish opposition.
The Night Wolves want to pay homage to the advance of the Red Army in 1945 and plan to arrive in Berlin on the 70th anniversary of VE Day after travelling through Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria.
The 5,000-strong club boasts the Russian president as a fan, and he has ridden with them on more than one occasion.
Alexander “The Surgeon” Zaldostanov, the club’s leader, is reported to be one of Mr Putin’s few close friends.
Along with close personal ties with the Russian president the “Wolves” have also backed his policies, making no secret of their support for Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, and have carried “aid” to pro-Russia rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine.
But the prospect of the bikers’ arrival in Poland has angered Poles already nervous of the threat posed by what they regard as revanchist and increasingly nationalistic Russia.
Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz described the rally as a “provocation” and said she had asked both the interior and foreign ministries to monitor developments to ensure Polish security was not threatened.
Other Poles have taken to the internet, signing an online petition to demand the bikers are turned away at the border, while some have vowed to disrupt their passage across Poland.
This has made little impression on the Wolves.
“Our action is probably not liked by those Poles who are descendents of [wartime] police officers and supervisors of the Jewish ghettos,” said Mr Zaldostanov. “But this really does not matter whether people like the rally or not because we will continue with our plans.”
He also warned people considering disrupting the club’s journey across Poland, saying that “any action will cause a reaction”.
Andrei Bobrovsky, the organiser of the rally, took a more relaxed approach saying they wanted to build good relations with neighbouring countries.
To get into Poland the bikers need a Schengen-zone visa, which they can apply for at any embassy of an EU state belonging to the free movement zone. It remains unclear whether embassy officials have a just cause to stop club members getting a visa, and Mrs Kopacz said the “situation would be guided by Polish law and laws governing the Schengen zone”.
In an apparent attempt to ease the process of getting visas Mr Zaldostanov said he “probably wouldn’t go” on the rally. The biker is banned from travelling to the US and Canada because of his support for Russia’s policy in eastern Ukraine and it is possible he believes he runs the risk of being turned back at the Polish border.
Some Poles have suggested that all the bikers should get visas and be allowed to travel to avoid providing Mr Putin with a propaganda victory.