The breeding of patriotism has always been on the agenda of Putin’s politics. Led by their charismatic leader, the Night Wolves support this political tool with annual performances.
Our MC is the Motoclub of Russian spirit – the motoclub of patriots! Motoclub which is able to unite Russian and Slavic society through the selfless moto brotherhood. – states one of the mottoes on the official website of motoclub.
Night Wolves started their activity in the late 1980s, but were only officially registered after the collapse of Soviet Union later in 1995. It was established as a uniquely Russian motoclub, as they “didn’t rush to become ‘juniors’ of some foreign clubs to turn themselves into the MC-stub of the West.” The group has branches in Ukraine, Latvia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Germany etc. In ideology, the MC adheres with the Russian Orthodox Church. Permanent leader Alexander “The Surgeon” Zaldostanov is calling himself “a friend of Putin” and therefore remains under Western sanctions.
Night Wolves MC hosts the annual 3-days long show-event since its advent in 1995. Last year the club held a show in Sevastopol, celebrating the annexation of Crimea. This year, at the same place, Night Wolves celebrated anniversary of club creation with performances depicting Victory in The Great Patriotic war. Tanks and crosses were heavily utilized throughout the show.
Prior to August motorshow 2015 in Sevastopol, Night Wolves organized a ride from Russia to Berlin in Spring under the name “Roads of Victory” (Red army’s route during WWII). Some members were stopped on the border with EU, but the rest managed to reach German capital and take a ride on its streets with a Russian flag. German media was quite impressed with the impudence of the activity, erupting with 37 articles on the issue:
Remember the Second World War with a tour to Berlin, that’s what 15 Russian bikers of the club Night Wolves want to do according to their own comment. This activity is controversial due to their involvement in the Ukraine war and nationalistic attitudes. – says Tagesschau.de.
It characterized the club as „strongly Russian-nationalistic“ and „sympathizers of the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.“ Süddeutsche Zeitung (sz.de) blamed Night Wolves for intimidating opposition in Russia and quoted Alexander “The Surgeon” Zaldostanov: “We are Russian Wolves. Where we are, there is Russia!” He also added: “Ukraine belongs to the Russian world,” “the West is our enemy.”
Lithuania diligently guarded the EU border and did not permit the Night Wolves to follow the “Roads of Victory.” With the beehive sufficiently stirred, the country’s media sources buzzed with headlines: “Putin’s bikers have undermined the essential ethical principle,” “The leader of the Night Wolves confirmed receiving millions from the Russian budget” (Delfi.lt); “The leader of the Night Wolves calls Polish border guards clowns,” “Lithuania and Poland did not let in bikers from Russia”(Lrytas.lt). The articles often connected the bikers to Vladimir Putin and political affiliations.
Delfi wrote: Russian President and the government generously paid the Night Wolves for their patriotism – the land in Crimea was sold to the bikers with a 99,9 % discount.
Estonia was one of the countries on the Night Wolves’ way to the center of Europe, but Estonian Police and Border Guard Board were concerned about the group entering their territory. As a result, the Night Wolves changed their plans and entered partially through Finland. Priit Luts from ERR reported that Estonian officials consulted with the Estonian Internal Security Service on the issue of border control. Following the Night Wolves’ tour of Europe, they sought to make the law on entrance to Estonia more harsh. The orientation particularly concerned those with pro-Russian affiliation.
American sources largely focused on the Night Wolves’s plan to ride to Berlin for the anniversary of the end of WWII. Media coverage also included numerous photographs of Putin riding on a motorcycle and mingling at bike rallies. Both VICE and New York Times put the spotlight on the leader of Night Wolves. In “A Moscow of Dancing Feet, Under an Iron Fist,” Zaldostanov was said to be “another projector of Russian patriotism… a surgeon-turned-motorcycle enthusiast.” The article also credited him and his gang with the performance of “a garish reconstruction of the war in Ukraine that featured Nazis with torches representing Ukrainian nationalists manipulated by a giant set of American hands.”
In the beginning, strong speech of the leader Alexander “The surgeon” Zaldostanov at Sevastopol bike-show 2014 after the annexation of Crimea.
During the Club’s more recent 20th celebration in Sevastopol, coverage was mostly limited to Russian media. Although the West was shocked and shaken by the “Roads of Victory,” it largely ignored the events of the 2015 show. Vesti.ru described the epic format of the celebration:
In special commemoration of the 70th anniversary of WWII Victory, the TT-34 tank (a long-time symbol of Victory) was transported to the show from Volgograd. The Motor Show in Sevastopol was the Grand Finale of the motocross ‘Roads of Victory.’ Thousands of bikers from around the country visited the event together with guests from Germany, Slovakia, Poland, Austria, Serbia, Belarus, Kazakhstan.
Parading military equipment was then followed by a boxing match. Coverage also included the appearance of legendary American boxer Roy Jones Jr. during the match, who himself may soon become a Russian citizen. The boxer’s appearance immediately resulted in his inclusion on the “black list” of “Ukraine’s enemies.” Slon.ru highlited this in its articles:
American boxer and world champion Roy Jones Jr. was put in the database of Ukrainian web resourse ‘The Peacemaker,’ which collects information about persons suspected of crimes against Ukraine. It happened after the boxer visited Sevastopol, a city Ukrainian authorities consider to be occupied by Russia.
Meduza.io and slon.ru put the spotlite more on controversies surrounding the Night Wolves rather then the event in Sevastopol: “Night Wolves received a piece of land in the Moscow region that costs $95 million.”
Night Wolves MC is a unique Russian club. On one hand it’s called a “bandit club,” but the group also maintains friendly relations with the state. Despite the attention received in Western media for previous year’s event in Sevastopol and this year’s “Roads to Victory” ride, the Grand Finale in Sevastopol 2015 was left in the shadow by the German, Lithuanian, American and Estonian news outlets.