Putin's Bikers to Go on Tour in Europe, Middle East and Africa

Putin's bikers to go on tour
The leader of the motorcycling club Night Wolves, Alexander Zaldostanov, performs during a festive concert marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, at Red Square in Moscow on May 9. Host Photo Agency/RIA Novosti/Reuters

An infamous Russian nationalist biker gang, the Night Wolves—known as Putin's bikers due to their close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin—is leading a tour of Russian-related sites through Europe, the Middle East and Africa, including Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Georgia, France and Spain.

The group, led by Alexander "the Surgeon" Zaldostanov, is close to the Russian government and has ridden with Putin. It has allowed recruiters for the Russian Navy at its bike shows and celebrated Russia's annexation of Crimea with a dramatic, nationalist spectacle in Sevastopol.

Two of the Night Wolves will begin the journey next week through Europe, cross into Africa via Morocco and travel to South Africa by road, visiting "monuments connected to the history of Russia" and parishes of the Orthodox Church, a spokesman for the group, Yevgeny Strogov, told RIA Novosti at a press conference on Wednesday night.

The Night Wolves will be joined by other bikers, including an Orthodox priest. The tour will be called "Around the World By The Meridian."

"The expedition will start on October 25 from the bike center in Moscow, the guys will go to Europe, and then descend on the western part of Africa to South Africa, the pass through the eastern part of the continent, go up and finish on April 12, on the Day of Cosmonautics in Murmansk [in Russia]," said Strogov.

Putin's bikers
Vladimir Putin rides with Alexander Zaldostanov, leader of the Night Wolves biker group, during his visit to a bike festival in the southern Russian city of Novorossiisk August 29, 2011. Ivan Sekretarev/Pool/Reuters

The pair of riders will leave a trail of Christian Orthodox crucifixes at the sites they visit and will carry an Orthodox icon to South Africa.

According to a rough estimation of the trail the group will follow uploaded on the Night Wolves's official site, the bikers will cross through several controversial areas on their way back from South Africa, including Georgia, whose relations with Russia have been rocky since the brief armed conflict between the two countries in 2008. They will also pass through Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Russia is currently bombing targets in Syria held by various militant factions opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an effort that is supported by Iraq and Iran but opposed by Saudi Arabia. Along with Turkey and Jordan, Saudi Arabia is taking part in separate air operations against extremist groups in Syria.

The group may also face difficulties during the first stages of the trip, as the riders have faced some difficulties in previous efforts to cross Europe.

The group earlier attempted to retrace the Red Army's victory march to Berlin ahead of Russia's celebration of the allied victory in World War II after European leaders rejected Putin's invitations to commemorate the event in Moscow.

The majority of the bikers were stopped on the Polish and Lithuanian borders with Belarus, and those remaining had to travel in cars due to the public outcry against their presence, German and Austrian media reported.

The group also announced it would tour western Ukraine earlier this year to restore Soviet monuments damaged as part of the widespread protests there against Russian influence on Kiev, but the tour is yet to take place.