Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

Putin’s 'Night Wolves' stir controversy in Poland

  • Putin (r) with Zaldostanov (c) in Volgograd (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Despite being refused entry into Poland, Russian bikers from the Putin-friendly Night Wolves motorcycle club have visited the former German concentration camp in Auschwitz and a Russian soldiers’ WWII cemetery in Pszczyna, Poland.

They claim they will conduct their rally to Berlin as planned.

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The ones that visited Auschwitz and Pszczyna hid the fact that they are from Night Wolves, flew to the Czech Republic, rented bikes and drove to Poland to lay flowers in the camp, one of the biggest Nazi extermination centres, which was liberated by the Soviet Union’s Red Army on 27 January 1945.

Russian bikers started their rally from Moscow to Berlin last Saturday (25 April). They wanted to take the same route as the Red Army in their so called “victory march” over fascism in 1945 via Minsk, Wroclaw, Brno, Bratislava, Vienna, Munich and Prague.

On Monday (27 April), they reached the Polish-Belarusian border but were refused entry on technical grounds. On Tuesday, they tried to get in through Lithuania but were stopped there as well.

The whole event was branded as a “Russian provocation”.

"The kind of political demonstrations performed by the Night Wolves do not serve European-Russian relations well," Polish foreign minister Grzegorz Schetyna said.

Putin’s Hell Angels

The Night Wolves motorcycle gang, established in 1989, openly expresses a pan-Slavic, nationalistic world view and supports the politics of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Putin himself has said they are “carrying out very important patriotic and military work”.

The bikers took an active role in the annexation of Crimea and they are allegedly involved in the war in Eastern Ukraine.

Their boss, Alexander "the Surgeon" Zaldostanov, is on the US and Canada blacklist.

“They praise Joseph Stalin and each year they celebrate the end of the Great Patriotic War – part of WWII which started in October 1941, when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union,” Anna Maria Dynar, Russia expert at The Polish Institute of International Affairs, told EUobserver.

The victory over Nazi Germany is central to Putin’s nationalist propaganda. But there are important differences between the “European” and “Russian” narratives of WWII history.

“For former Soviet republics and the satellite countries, the so-called Russian victory over fascism was the beginning of Soviet occupation, so for us there is not much to celebrate on 9 May. Russians don’t see it that way, they think we are ungrateful,” Dynar explains.

Polish MEP Anna Fotyga, chair of the subcommittee on security and sefence, believes that the Night Wolves rally will be “an opportunity to offend the people of Central and Eastern Europe and promote Russia’s bogus historical propaganda”.

“The gang’s motto, ‘Wherever the Night Wolves are, there is Russia’, ties in perfectly with the Kremlin’s latest strategies,” she said.

“By not letting them into our country we show that we don’t accept their actions. It’s our solidarity with Ukraine,” Wiktor Ross, former charge d’affaires in Polish embassy in Moscow, commented in the media.

Putin’s victory

Whether or not there is a rally, the controversy is already a win for Putin.

“By not letting them in, the EU shows its hypocrisy in the way it grants civil liberties only to some. If they do the rally, Russian propaganda will praise a symbolic victory march over resurgent fascism, because this is what Europe is accused of. In both cases Russian propaganda wins," Jan W. Piekarski, a diplomat and former ambassador, told this website.

In his opinion, the situation reflects the bad state of EU-Russia relations.

"Normally such minor events should not affect diplomatic relations. But in this case we had embassies involved, there were some comments from both Polish and Russian foreign ministries. It just shows that the tension is really huge. That doesn’t bode well," he added.

Meanwhile, there is no consensus in Polish society on whether the Night Wolves should be allowed to pass through.

According to a Millward Brown SMG/KRC poll, 52 percent of respondents didn’t want the Russian bikers to cross Poland, but 40 percent thought they should be allowed to.

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