Poland’s prime minister was among the first to call it a provocation: plans by the Night Wolves motorcycle gang, which has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, to stage a ride from Moscow to Berlin to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. Their route will take them across Poland, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany. On Monday, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka suggested the ride was a propaganda event to counter a recent show of military strength by the US.
The Night Wolves are staunch supporters of Vladimir Putin and of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea. The first biker gang in Russia, founded in 1989 or even earlier according to some sources, has become something of a travelling ad for the Putin regime. Many in Europe are less than thrilled with their planned ride across much of eastern as well as part of central Europe to commemorate – they say – the Red Army’s March on Berlin in 1945, helping defeat Nazi Germany. Along the way, the daily the Guardian noted, members will visit war memorials, the death camps of Auschwitz and Dachau, and Treptower Park in Berlin.
Although the bikers reportedly see the event as apolitical, others see the ride as nothing less than a provocation, among them Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek and Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who suggested the bikers served as a propaganda tool. In the Czech prime minister’s view, the gang is bolstering Russia’s image in response to a show of force by the United States, whose convoy recently travelled back to Germany from NATO exercises in the Baltic states. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka:
“I consider the ride by Russian bikers as – to a degree - a propaganda answer to the recent journey by the US convoy, an attempt to balance the message through propaganda or in the media.”
The so-called US “Dragoon” convoy made headlines at the end of March and early April with some 120 vehicles and 500 personnel travelling across the Czech Republic and other countries, following an operation displaying the United States’ commitment to peace and stability in Europe. There, military columns of heavy armoured vehicles were greeted by both supporters as well as opponents. Regarding the Night Wolves, the prime minister said that the Czech Republic would likely not be the country where bikers applied for visas, opening the way to the EU’s Shengen zone. The country’s police and other security forces meanwhile will keep abreast of developments. Interior Minister Milan Chovanec:
“We will certainly monitor the ride but as long as members uphold Czech laws they will be allowed to travel through the country just like anybody else.”
The Night Wolves’ ride is reportedly set to begin on April 25. Presumably they have their visas sorted, as otherwise members would be turned back at the first EU border, cutting short what promises to be a closely-watched trip.
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