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Putin To Ride With 'Night Wolves' In 'Stalingrad'?

President Vladimir Putin gives a medal to the leader of the Night Wolves biker group, Aleksandr Zaldostanov, during a meeting at his residence in March.
President Vladimir Putin gives a medal to the leader of the Night Wolves biker group, Aleksandr Zaldostanov, during a meeting at his residence in March.
Vladimir Putin has been invited to attend a "bike show" in the city of Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, at the end of this month at the invitation of the leader of a Russian motorcycle gang.

The Russian newspaper "Izvestia" reported on August 6 that the leader of the Night Wolves motorcycle club, Aleksandr Zaldostanov, otherwise known as "The Surgeon," personally extended the invitation to the Russian president.

"I proposed to Vladimir Vladimirovich that he come to Stalingrad," Zaldostanov said, "But the president has something scheduled for every second, so whether he can find the time [to come to the bike show], no one can be sure."

According to Zaldostanov, Putin said, "I want to be there with you, I would be glad to sit on a motorcycle and take off somewhere with you" but, the Russian president lamented, "I have boring matters to take care of."

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that Putin would not be likely to attend the bike show on August 23 because he has a full schedule that goes late into the night.

Putin did attend a bike show in Sevastopol last year, arriving on a three-wheeled motorcycle.

And the Russian president's attendance at the "Stalingrad" motorcycle show cannot be ruled out entirely. The event is being held as part of a wider ceremony commemorating the Nazi bombing of Stalingrad on August 23, 1942.

According to "Izvestia," "the German bombing literally turned the city into a ruin, under which more than 40,000 people died."

World War II veterans in Volgograd reportedly gave their enthusiastic support to the idea of an "international, patriotic bike show" to be included as part of ceremonies that will mostly be somber events.

'Tough Guy' Putin

Putin has embraced and supported Russian patriotism and the strength of the Russian nation, presenting a stark contrast to the leadership of his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, who was perceived by some as weak and ruling over a Russia that seemed to be in a state of decay.

Macho antics, such as paragliding with cranes, riding shirtless on horseback, or more recently catching a 21-kilogram fish, have become of part of the "tough guy" image Putin has cultivated since he first became president in 2000 (when his first act was to fly to Chechnya to present hunting knives to Russian soldiers).

A motorcycle ride with heavily-bearded bikers in jeans and leather vests would be in keeping with such an image.

The Kremlin has also found an ally in Russian biker clubs.

Zaldostanov's Night Wolves expressed outrage at the "punk prayer" performance in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral by the feminist punk performance-art group Pussy Riot in February 2012.

The Night Wolves vowed publicly they would help guard Russia's Orthodox cathedrals from any further hooliganism, becoming protecters of the faith, and by extension, the state, by condemning actions the authorities were already criticizing.

In a sign of this relationship, Zaldostanov told "Izvestia" he rode his motorcycle to Putin's residence in Novo-Ogaryovo, outside Moscow, to extend the invitation to the bike show in Volgograd.

Zaldostanov described his meeting with Putin as having an "impulsive, unexpected character."

He recounted that Putin's guards would not permit him to drive his motorcycle onto the residence grounds so he parked his motorcycle by a tree outside. "'The Surgeon' was shocked to see the president met him at the entrance" to the residence grounds, "Izvestia" reported.

-- RFE/RL Central Newsroom with reporting by "Izvestia" and Interfax

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