Pro-Putin biker gang sparks anger over World War II commemoration

The Night Wolves say their trip is not politically motivated

Pro-Putin biker gang sparks anger over World War II commemoration

The Night Wolves biker gang | Image:

A Russian biker gang loyal to President Vladimir Putin is planning to ride through Europe to mark the end of the World War II, triggering anger in Poland.

Plans by the ultra-nationalistic Night Wolves motorcycle club to retrace the westward route taken by Soviet troops to Berlin have been branded a "provocation" by Warsaw.

The rally comes amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the crisis in Ukraine, which have fuelled fears of Moscow's wider territorial ambitions.

The two-week, 3,728 mile ride will pass through Belarus, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and finish in the German capital on May 9th.

The biker gang's website states "To Berlin" - a reference to the Red Army's famous battle cry.

The planned ride has angered many in Poland, which is a staunch ally of Ukraine's pro-Western government and where bitter memories endure of the Soviet's wartime occupation.

The country's Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said she considered it a "provocation". But the bikers insist their trip is not politically motivated.

Rally organiser Andrei Bobrovsky said: "This is a memorial rally. The main goal is to pay respects to those killed on WWII battlefields in the struggle against Hitler's Nazis - soldiers and innocent civilians."

"Another goal is to develop and strengthen good neighbourly ties."

Visits to Auschwitz and Dachau

During their journey the bikers will visit war memorials, Auschwitz and Dachau death camps and Berlin's Treptower Park famous for its Soviet war memorial.

Mr Bobrovsky said many bikers from other European countries wanted to join the rally, which is due to start on 25 April, including Germans.

But a Polish Facebook page, called "No to the passage of Russian bandits through Poland", calls on the authorities to ban the Russian riders from the EU.

Jarek Podworski, a biker from Lublin in Poland who helped set up the Facebook page, said that it was "unimaginable" for bikers who have supported pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine to ride through the EU.

"We know very well what they are doing in Ukraine," Mr Podworski said.

"Brandishing Russian flags, they want to trace the footsteps of the Red Army which in reality did not bring freedom to Poland. The Russians are testing the limits of their expansion. If they pass, there is a risk that in three years they will come for good."

He called on Poles to disrupt the rally by blocking the roads. The Polish government said it is monitoring "the problem".

The Night Wolves, who are sometimes seen as Russia's answer to the Hell's Angels in the US, are close allies of Mr Putin.

The Russian leader has been pictured on a number of occasions astride a Harley-Davidson trike at events held by the gang.