The President of Slovakia Andrej Kiska said on July 31, the Night Wolves – Russia’s “biker” club notoriously loyal to Vladimir Putin – posed a national security threat to his country.
President Kiska’s comments came after the Night Wolves established base in a small town just 43 miles from the Slovak capital of Bratislava.
“The Night Wolves joined the military units in the Crimea alongside the Russian army. Several members received state awards in Russia,” said Kiska in a statement. “The founder of the Night Wolves is on the sanction list for participation in the annexation of the Crimea and must not travel to any of the EU member states. So to be clear, they are no harmless motorcycle lovers.”
The President “urged” the Slovak government to provide security forces “with all the necessary conditions for effective action against the dubious societies that are spreading throughout our country.”
Blame Soros and Democracy
The next day, Alexander Zaldostanov, aka “the Surgeon” – the leader of the Night Wolves – unfolded an end of the world conspiracy theory in response to Kiska, accusing the Slovak President of using “democracy and Soros” to “shape the world mentality” for “ultimate control over the world.” Soros is a frequent target of Russian nationalists and their Web sites.
“But we are not a flock, following Soros to the abyss. We do not want to fit into their end of the world,” said Surgeon, claiming his European base was not the “initiative of Moscow.”
Follow the Money
“The Surgeon’s” claim is false. For the the sorts of “initiatives” that alerted the Slovakian president to the biker club, the “Night Wolves” has enjoyed privileged treatment by the Russian government -- funding verified in tens of millions of rubles and possibly much more in direct financing and presidential grants.
In the Russian government entrepreneur’s registry, Alexander Zaldostanov is listed as the owner or manager of more than 11 currently active firms in Russia and a founder or a co-founder of about 60.
According to Russian government open sources, groups and companies owned in full or in part by Alexander Zaldostanov, including the Night Wolves have received from the federal and regional government budgets in Russia approximately 60 million rubles between 2011 and 2018.
Exact sums are difficult to track due to the lack of transparency in Russia, especially in Chechnya and other rural regions, where the Night Wolves’ leader enjoys the same privileged treatment as in Moscow.
Where the Wolves Ride
The projects, for which the Surgeon is getting financial support from the Russian government, include, for instance, delivery of the gift of a giant bell from the Russian Orthodox Church to the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol in 2013 – one year before Putin was to move to annex the city along with the entire Crimean peninsula. The symbolism of the bell was apparent only to those familiar with a long time struggle of the Russian Orthodox Church in trying to take the independent Kyiv Church under its control.
A year later, the Night Wolves took part in the annexation of Crimea, and in the war in eastern Ukraine, fighting as mercenaries against Kyiv.
There were also notorious motorcycle rallies through major EU cities from Russia to Berlin “promoting Russian patriotism and highlighting the glory of the Russian military” – supposedly to celebrate and honor the “liberating role of the Soviet Army” in Europe at the end of World War II.
In Synchrony with the Kremlin
The statements and the actions of the Night Wolves often appear to be synchronized with Kremlin and Russian Defense Ministry narratives. For instance, the Wolves’ establishment of a network of new “headquarters” in the Balkans coincides with the plans of the Russian defense ministry to establish new military bases in Serbia and Bosnia, and the use of the existing “civilian bases" for spying.
The Night Wolves base in Slovakia that triggered concern over national security, in fact, is not a mere “headquarters” as “the Surgeon” claims it is. Drone footage shows it to resemble a military fortress equipped with artillery, heavy armored vehicles and even tanks.
The base is located near where the borders of three European countries come together – the Czech Republic, Austria and Slovakia -- in a small town called Dolna Krupa. EU borders are open and so movement in the region is unrestricted.
According to the newspaper Hospodarske Noviny, the local branch of the Night Wolves is headed by Jozef Hambalek, who the newspaper says owns the property and is close to former Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak. Neither has commented publicly on the base, Radio Free Europe reported in July.
This July, a group of more than two hundred Slovak intellectuals sent an open letter to their government urging it take action against the Night Wolves. The letter called Hambalek a “Slovak paramilitary fanatic” and “an umbrella” for Russia’s covert operations.
Jozef Hambalek is the official founder and owner of the Slovak Night Wolves Club.
In 2016, the Montenegrin prosecutor indicted the leader of the Serbian Night Wolves club, and a veteran of Russia’s war in eastern Ukraine, Aleksandr Sindjelic. He is accused of an attempted coup, including the assassination of Montenegro’s then-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who Moscow perceived as rival due to his pro-Western views.
“In the months leading up to the parliamentary elections of October 16, 2016, Russian agents, Serbian extremists, and leaders of the Montenegrin opposition alliance (the Democratic Front) prepared to oust the government violently on election night,” said the report by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, based on testimony and physical evidence reviewed by researchers.