The Putin-friendly bikers who stole Crimea just set up in a new country
The "Night Wolves" have come to Slovakia and the locals are not happy about it. Also known in Eastern Europe as "Putin's Angels," the group is a biker gang with ties to the Kremlin. Their arrival in the country is not a welcome sight, as their presence foretells a potentially devastating future.
And seeing as Slovakia is a member of NATO, it could even spark a third world war.
Their favorites include Vladimir Putin, pictured here with "The Surgeon," and Joseph Stalin, who is still dead.
In 2014, the group helped the Russian military annex Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and continue to assist pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's bloody, ongoing civil war. The gang's leader, Aleksandr Zaldostanov (aka "The Surgeon") offers his gang's assistance to Russian Special Forces in what Slovak President Andrej Kiska calls violations of international law. The group even operates a training center just a few miles away from the fighting in Ukraine.
"The Surgeon," named for his history in dentistry, has risen to prominence in Russia during a time when the Soviet Union evokes nostalgia among many. Zaldostanov is Russian nationalism's brightest rising star. He, like many others, yearns for the days when Russian power meant something and decries the country's enemies, mainly NATO and the United States.
During the Russian takeover of Ukraine, the Night Wolves operated roadblocks and stormed Ukrainian naval facilities, even going so far as to seize weapons from Ukrainian government facilities. They even received medals for their work in Sevastopol and greater Ukraine before the Russians moved in, and a medal for patriotism in the wake of the Sevastopol bike show, which was attended by Vladimir Putin himself.
In Slovakia, the gang built a compound from which to base their activities, which, in the past, have included anti-NATO rallies and three-day long protests against the Slovakian government. The building is just 60 kilometers from the Slovak capital of Bratislava.
The compound houses old tanks and armored military vehicles for a group that bills itself as a group of "harmless motorcycle lovers."
The arrival of the Night Wolves was met by calls for the Slovakian government to forcibly remove the gang. This is in stark contrast to other visits but not for the same reasons.
When the biker gang rolled into Bosnia (without bikes – it was too cold for bikes) the locals did little more than giggle. Roughly half of that country is represented by the breakaway region known as Republika Srpska, an area that wants its independence from Bosnia and would look to Russia as a potential patron. Instead of money or arms, Putin sent the Night Wolves.
"They looked pathetic; even I am taller than they are," ethnic Serb psychologist Srdjan Puhalo told the New York Times. He still posed with the bikers for photos in Banja Luka, the most pro-Russia city in Bosnia. Other countries have not been so receptive to the Night Wolves.
Now read: The real story of the Hell's Angels biker gang and the military
Poland, for its part, stopped the Night Wolves from entering its borders in 2015, when the bikers tried to ride to Germany for the celebration of Russia's victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. The Poles saw it instead as a Kremlin provocation.
President Kiska is among those in Slovakia who want the Night Wolves' base removed and the bikers sent packing, but it's not the President's call to make. The local authorities in the country insist the gang has done nothing wrong (in Slovakia, at least).