Pro-Putin bikers launch rally bound for Berlin

AP , AFP , Saturday 29 Apr 2023

Hundreds of Kremlin-loyal bikers under the banner of the Night Wolves motorcycle club took to the streets of Moscow Saturday for a "patriotic" rally across Europe.

Bikers ride at the Palace Square decorated for the Victory Day military parade which will take place
Bikers ride at the Palace Square decorated for the Victory Day military parade which will take place on May 9 to celebrate 78 years after the victory in World War II, during a festival marking the beginning of the motor biking season in St. Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, April 29, 2023. The sign reads Victory . AP


The motorcade headed by club founder and leader Alexandre Zaldastanov, known as "The Surgeon", aims to complete the rally in Berlin by May 9.

Several participants at the rally waved Russian and Soviet flags. Some had the letter "Z" fixed to their bikes -- a symbol of the "Russia's special military operation" in Ukraine launched in February 2022.

Dubbed "the roads of victory", the rally adopted the traditional slogan of the Russian offensive in Ukraine: "We do not let down our own".

According to organisers, the motorcade plans reach by May 1 the city of Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, the site of a bloody battle between Soviet and German Nazis troops that marked a turning point in WWII toward victory for the Soviet Union and its allies.

The bikers will continue their journey to the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, the scene of heavy fighting, where they will distribute humanitarian aid to civilians and Russian soldiers.

"The inhabitants of Donbass and us, we are the same people," 34-year-old Artiom told AFP before embarking on the race.

Zaldastanov, who has described himself as a "friend" of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is under Western sanctions for his support for the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 and the Russian offensive in Ukraine.

In May 2015, he was banned from entering Poland, where he wanted to organise "a motorcycle victory rally" across Europe. The ban had provoked the ire of Russian diplomacy.

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