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Pro-Putin Night Wolves Bikers Start 'Russian Balkan' Tour In Serbia

Members of the Russian motorcycle club Night Wolves in the Serbian town of Sid

The Night Wolves, a motorcycle club known for its allegiance to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has started what it is calling a "Russian Balkans" tour with a visit to the Serbian town of Sid.

In Sid, near the Serbian-Croatian border, the group met with local motorcycle clubs on March 20 before visiting a memorial to soldiers killed in World War II and an Orthodox Christian church.

The Night Wolves and their leader, Aleksandr Zaldostanov, who calls himself "the Surgeon," have been hit with Western sanctions for their support of Russia-backed in Ukraine.

The club, which has planned or taken a number of rides seen as politically provocative, says it wants to study the history and heritage of Russia in the Balkans.

The tour coincides with what Western intelligence officials say has been an increase in efforts by Moscow to expand its influence in the region.

Officials in Bosnia-Herzegovina have alleged the tour is aimed at intimidating non-Serbs in the divided country, where a 1992-95 ethnic war killed more than 100,000 people.

Local media reported last week that leaders of the Night Wolves were banned from entering Bosnia, and Zaldostanov is not taking part in the Balkan tour.

The bikers are currently traveling by van rather than motorcycle because of the cold weather.

They planned to head for Banja Luka, the administrative center of Republika Srpska, the predominantly ethnic Serb entity in Bosnia, on March 21.

They are scheduled to return to Belgrade on March 27.

With reporting by AP