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Russian Biker Leader Lambasts Poles For Denying Entry

  • RFE/RL

The leader of the Night Wolves, a nationalist Russian motorcycle club with ties to President Vladimir Putin, has criticized Polish authorities for barring its members from the country and suggested some would make new attempts to enter the European Union.

Aleksandr Zaldostanov spoke to journalists in the Belarusian city of Brest on April 28, a day after Polish border guards turned 10 Russian bikers back at the border with Belarus.

Zaldostanov, who is close to Putin and is also known by the nickname "The Surgeon," called the decision to bar the bikers "a cheap circus."

"This is what we witnessed yesterday -- 20 completely open people, completely unarmed and on the most noble of missions hit the road," he said.

He said they were met by "armed people with bulletproof vests" who were "digging through our underwear" in searches.

Zaldostanov said the bikers would manage to "deliver the message from World War II veterans" in Russia to veterans in Europe despite Poland's decision.

He said he "would not reveal the details of the ride's new route at this point."

Some 20 Russian motorcyclists set out for Berlin from Moscow on April 25 to commemorate the World War II victory over Nazi Germany.

They hoped to make a 6,000-kilometer journey to the German capital via Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic, echoing the Red Army's westward advance after the tide of the war that killed some 27 million Soviet soldiers and civilians turned.

The planned trip has touched nerves in Central and Eastern Europe, where resentment of Moscow's decades-long postwar domination remains strong and Russia's interference in Ukraine has sent tensions skyrocketing.

On April 24, Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz called the plan a "provocation," and officials of some other countries had said at least some of the bikers would be prohibited from entering.

Lithuanian officials say they barred three Russian motorcyclists from crossing into the country on April 27.

The State Border Guards Service said the bikers did not have documents showing that their motorcycles were roadworthy.

Russia "decisively condemned" Poland's decision to bar the bikers and demanded an official explanation.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the Polish move amounted to "blasphemy" against the memory of Soviet soldiers "who saved Poland and the world from fascism."

Echoing accusations Putin has made, Zaldostanov said Western countries were trying "to rewrite the [World War II] victory and erase it from memory."

Putin, who will preside over a military parade in Red Square on May 9 to commemorate the Nazi defeat, bristles at any attempt to question the Kremlin's black-and-white portrayal of World War II.

In December, the United States announced sanctions against the Night Wolves, saying they were involved in Russia's takeover of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014.

But the Night Wolves have not been blacklisted by the EU.

Putin has ridden with the group, which has support from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Despite tense relations with Russia that have been aggravated by the annexation of Crimea and support for rebels in eastern Ukraine, Poland has given permission to other Russian vehicle processions in commemoration of World War II.

On April 25, about 200 motorcyclists were part of a motorcade that traveled from Russia's Kaliningrad exclave to a memorial for fallen Soviet soldiers at the Polish town of Braniewo.

With reporting by TASS and Interfax
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