SOFIA — They played a role in Russia’s seizure of Crimea, preach an extremist brand of Russian nationalism, spew hate toward minorities and other “outsiders,” and are chummy with Russian President Vladimir Putin whose government has reportedly showered them with millions of dollars of Russian taxpayer money for many years.
For their thuggish role in Crimea in 2014, when members set up road blocks and provided other support for the Moscow-orchestrated takeover of the Ukrainian peninsula, Russia’s Night Wolves have been sanctioned by the West.
In July, top bikers, including leader Aleksandr Zadostanov, better known as “The Surgeon,” were added to the EU’s blacklist in the latest round of sanctions to punish Russia for its unprovoked, full invasion of Ukraine in February.
While the bikers are finding roads closed to them across Europe, it’s not a dead end everywhere. Enthusiasts linked to the Russian gang can also be found in Bulgaria, which is both a member of the European Union and NATO but has traditional ties with Russia.
The Night Wolves in Bulgaria are highly visible
The Night Wolves in Bulgaria are highly visible, often posing for pictures with the Russian ambassador, herself a controversial figure who has faced calls to be sent packing for her agitating inside Bulgaria. The bikers often attend events organized by the Russian Embassy in Bulgaria. And the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has also given its blessings to the bikers.
Despite the group’s pariah status across the EU, though, Bulgarian officialdom appears unconcerned, raising nary a protest, let alone any calls for them to hightail out.
The origins of the Night Wolves date back to the Soviet era
The origins of the Night Wolves date back to the Soviet era, when in 1983 they became the first official bike club registered in the U.S.S.R., at the time largely involved in arranging illegal rock concerts in the Soviet Union. Besides Bulgaria, the Night Wolves are reported to have branches in Germany, Serbia, Romania, Australia, Slovakia, Belarus, the Philippines, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and North Macedonia. In 2018, the Night Wolves were reported to have more than 5,000 members in Russia and elsewhere.