EU Imposes Sanctions On Russia’s Version Of The Hell’s Angel’s Motorcycle Club
Brussels introduces punishments for patriotism with implications for European nationalism.
The European Union has imposed sanctions on leaders of the Night Wolves, a Russian motorcycle club with members around the world, including chapters within the EU.
The Night Wolves became the first official bike club in the USSR and began life in 1983 by arranging illegal rock music concerts in the Soviet Union. The Night Wolves now have chapters in Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Germany, Bulgaria , Serbia, Romania, Australia, Slovakia, Belarus, Philippines, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, the Czech Republic and North Macedonia.
The EU sanctions affect the club’s leadership, which is lead by Alexander Zaldastanov, who was awarded the Medal for the Return of Crimea by Russian President Putin in 2014 for his actions in “Helping Crimeans to self-determine”. Zaldastanov was partially responsible for organizing a referendum in Crimea which saw most of the Crimean residents opt to return to Russia rather than be part of Ukraine. Russian troops and support personnel subsequently took over the peninsula without any resistance. Kiev declared the referendum ‘illegal’.
He and the Night Wolves have offered support to pro-Russia militias fighting in the eastern Ukraine, and he has been barred from entering the EU since 2015.
The club runs multiple rock clubs and arranges many rock concerts in Russia. It also runs several tattoo parlors and is one of the founders of the annual International Moscow Tattoo Convention. In 1995, they launched a clothing line, “Wolf Wear”, and established the “Wolf Engineering” custom shop subsidiary. It has gathered mechanics and general motorcycle enthusiasts from all across Russia, runs several motorcycle repair and custom shops and also developed the Wolf-Ural (Волк-Урал) motorcycle together with the manufacturer IMZ-Ural.
A subsidiary of the Night Wolves is the racing team “Wolf Racing” which was created in 2001 and participates in and organizes various events in Russia. They are involved with the Russian Orthodox Church and make a motorcycle pilgrimage to holy Russian Orthodox sites several times a year.
The Night Wolves are partially funded by the Kremlin, receiving “several hundred million rubles a year” according to a report in 2013. In May 2015, Alexei Navalny claimed that the Russian government had given 56 million rubles to the group in the preceding 18 months. In October 2015, the Night Wolves received a donation of 12 million rubles from the Russian government to build a youth “Patriot” center in Sevastopol in Crimea.
It is unclear what the effect of sanctions upon the Night Wolves is expected to be or what it is really aimed at other than the position that anyone supporting Russia is now a legitimate target. The Night Wolves themselves are more likely to treat the sanctions as an ‘honor’ with them leading to more defiance against the EU’s Ukrainian stance, not less.
The Night Wolves group are defiantly ‘pro-Russian’ yet have not committed any illegal acts in either the EU or Russia, leading to a conclusion that patriotism is now a sanctionable offense in Europe. It will be interesting to note in coming years how nationalism in the EU could be legally punishable should preference for one’s own country above that of loyalty to the European Union begin to alarm Brussels.
There should be concerns. Sanctions imposed on Russia today can become blueprints for Brussels to later impose rules and punishments on EU nationals themselves should they find themselves disagreeing with the overall EU imposed doctrine.
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