Polish border guards have blocked a group of 10 Russian bikers, who are known for their support for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, from entering Poland as part of a ride to commemorate the Soviet Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany 70 years ago.
Border guard spokesman Dariusz Sienicki announced the decision after members of the Night Wolves, which has stirred controversy with its support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea, approached the border and tried to enter the country.
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“These people will not cross into Poland,” Sienicki said.
The incident came amid deep tensions between the West and Russia over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
Poland, which was under Moscow’s control for most of the past two and a half centuries, has been one of the most outspoken European voices in favour of sanctions on Russia.
The Night Wolves had wanted to travel across Eastern Europe to honour the Red Army soldiers who died as they and Western Allies defeated Hitler’s Germany, visiting their graves and other war sites.
Their aim was to arrive in Berlin for ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II on May 9.
Polish authorities last week said they would not let the bikers enter the country. They insisted the move was not political, but Poland’s Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz and other leaders have described the bikers’ plans as a “provocation”.
The leaders have not explained why they see the bikers as provocative. Polish activists who also oppose their entry into the country say they object to the bikers’ strong support for the Russian annexation of Crimea and alleged support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.
‘Not a normal bike club’
“This is not a normal bike club. They are tools in the hand of Vladimir Putin to make propaganda,” said Tomasz Czuwara, a spokesman for the Open Dialog Foundation, a Polish group that supports Ukraine.
The Night Wolves vowed to try to enter Poland despite the ban and 15 leather-clad bikers approached the border crossing between Brest, Belarus, and Terespol, Poland, on Monday morning. Five did not have visas and said they were just there to see their colleagues off.
Belarusian guards let them pass but they were then held in a hangar by Polish officials for a couple of hours before being turned back.
One of the bikers, Andrei Bobrovsky, said they were “thoroughly searched, to the last sock”.
Alexander Zaldostanov, leader of the Night Wolves, said they will make the run to Berlin anyway.
“Other people who won’t say they are Night Wolves will take this route and accomplish this mission that we were planning to do for the 70th anniversary of the Great Victory,” he said on LifeNews, a Russian TV channel.
Not all Poles are opposed to the Night Wolves. The head of a Polish bikers’ group, Wiktor Wegrzyn, called the Polish opposition to the bikers “anti-Russia hysteria”.
After the Russian bikers were denied entry, about 100 Polish bikers on the Polish side of the border honked their horns and flashed their lights in protest. They had gathered earlier Monday hoping to escort the Russians through Poland.
The Russian bikers left Russia on Saturday and on Sunday they paid homage in Russia at a memorial to Polish prisoners of war killed in the Katyn massacres by the Soviet Union during World War II.