|Putin visits the camp of the Night Wolves Motoclub, July 2012. Photo: President of Russia|
Around two dozen members of Russia’s ‘Night Wolves’ biker group will tour parts of the Western Balkan in March to “research on the cultural influence of the Russian Empire in the Balkans,” according to their website.
The group will tour Bosnia and Serbia for around nine days, during which they will cover around 2,000 kilometres, beginning on March 19 in the Serbian capital, Belgrade.
According to the ‘Night Wolves’, the “Russian Balkans” pilgrimage aims to study the historical heritage of the Russian Empire and the Orthodox Church.
The group has become notorious for its close ties to the Kremlin, and critics say its main aim is not sporting-related but to promote President Vladimir Putin’s brand of Russian nationalism.
The US has sanctioned the ‘Night Wolves’ for its involvement with anti-Western and pro-Russian separatist movements in Ukraine.
In December 2014, the US Treasury Department blacklisted the ‘Night Wolves’ because its members served in an armed group in Ukraine.
Media reports say the group will visit Banja Luka, the administrative centre of Bosnia’s mainly Serbian entity, Republika Srpska, on March 21.
According to their itinerary, they will also meet the pro-Russian Republika Srpska President, Milorad Dodik.
On January 9 this year, marking the Republika Srpska’s disputed statehood day, Dodik awarded the ‘Night Wolves’ for their “particular emphasis on the affirmation of human rights, tolerance among people, the rule of law and freedom, and the strengthening of friendly relations between the Russian Federation and the RS”.
The award was received by one of the members of the club. Alexandar Zaldastanov, the president of the biker club, was not in Banja Luka that day.
However, a few weeks later, Zaldastanov sent a letter to Dodik, inviting him to visit the bikers’ annual party in Sevastopol, Crimea, the region that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
In the letter, Zaldastanov called Dodik a “son of the true, deep Serbia” whose goal was to “establish the unity of peoples, after which, finally, will be the long-awaited revival”.
“Our motorcycles are spaceships under the stars, through which we write history, forever linked with the fight for Russia’s future,” Zaldostanov, who goes by the nickname “The Surgeon”, said in a recent interview to the Banja Luka-based daily Glas Srpske.