Poland bans ‘provocative’ Russian bikers loyal to Putin
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish authorities said Friday they will not allow a nationalistic Russian motorcycle group loyal to President Vladimir Putin to enter Poland, but insisted the move is not political and was made in part because Polish authorities would not be able to guarantee their security.
The Night Wolves group had planned to enter Poland next week to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Their plan was to cross several countries on their way to Berlin, following a path taken by the Red Army in its defeat of Adolf Hitler’s Germany.
Many Poles reacted angrily to the plan for the symbolic drive through their country at a time of deep strains between Russia and the West. Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz recently called it a “provocation.”
The Foreign Ministry in Warsaw said that it was refusing to let the bikers enter Poland because it did not receive precise information from them about their route and schedule, information “necessary to ensure proper security for the participants.”
The ministry said it also received information about the group’s plans too late. The decision was relayed to the Russian Embassy in Warsaw in a diplomatic note on Friday.
Ministry spokesman Marcin Wojciechowski insisted that the decision was not politically motivated.
The Russian Foreign Ministry later issued a statement saying: “The authorities spoiled this memorial action under the far-fetched pretext of ‘presenting late and insufficient information’. This is an obvious lie.”
Night Wolves leader Alexander Zaldostanov, known as “The Surgeon,” was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying the run would begin as planned on Saturday.
“If we give up on our ride, then let’s give up on everything. Let’s give up on May 9, let’s give up on our graves, our history and our past,” he was quoted as saying.
Asked when the Night Wolves might try to cross the border into Poland, he said “I don’t want to reveal all our plans.”
Both Germany and the Czech Republic, which the Night Wolves also planned to cross on their trip, expressed unease with the planned ride Friday.
The German Foreign Ministry said that “in view of the organization’s activity so far, it is not of the opinion that this ... initiative can make a contribution to strengthening German-Russian relations.” It said that it was important for the German government to mark the anniversary of the end of the war “in dignity.”
The Czech Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it “respects” the Polish decision and that it was asked by Russia to assist the bikers but refused to do so.
The Night Wolves, which is estimated to have several thousand members, is strongly nationalistic and Slavo-centric, even conducting runs to Russian Orthodox holy sites. The group has close ties to President Vladimir Putin, who has been shown riding with the club, and last year it held an elaborate rally in Sevastopol honoring Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Associated Press writers Jim Heintz in Moscow, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report.