Poland denies entry to pro-Putin bikers

Night Wolves' members were to ride from Moscow to Berlin to mark end of World War Two.

Members of Russia’s Night Wolves biker club arrive for a concert in Moscow on April 23, 2015. Pavel Golovkin / AP Photo
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WARSAW // Poland will not allow members of a Russian motorcycle club linked to President Vladimir Putin to cross its border and enter the European Union’s territory, the Polish foreign ministry said on Friday.

The decision is likely to put further strain on bilateral relations already damaged by Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis.

Some 50 members of the Night Wolves, a group blacklisted by the United States for taking part in Russia’s annexation of Crimea, are taking part in a bike ride from Moscow to Berlin, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two.

“The foreign ministry has passed a diplomatic note to the Russian Embassy in Warsaw ... concerning a denial of entry to Poland to an organised group of motorcyclists, which included representatives of the Night Wolves club,” the ministry said.

Ministry spokesman Marcin Wojciechowski said Russia formally asked Poland last Monday to approve the motorcyclists’ tour due to start on Saturday.

“I want to reassure you that the decision was not a political one, but based on formal considerations”, he said, adding that Russia did not provide details on the planned route, accommodation or list of participants.

The ministry allowed three other Russian motorcyclists’ groups to enter Poland, he said.

Mr Wojciechowski said the foreign ministry was not in charge of regulating cross-border movement, but to his knowledge the Night Wolves had not applied for visas needed to enter Poland.

“In taking the decision, we consulted our German and Czech partners,” he added.

The Night Wolves have strongly backed the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and the support for them shown by Mr Putin, who rode with them in a 2011 motorcycle parade.

Politicians and activists in the eastern EU expressed outrage this week over the plan by the Night Wolves to retrace the Red Army’s path to Berlin. According to the Night Wolves’ website, at least 20 riders planned to cruise from Moscow through Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany before arriving in Berlin on May 9, the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat.

Earlier this month, the Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz said the ride was a provocation, but a final decision would be made by border control officials.

“If it was to disturb our security, put the Polish people in danger of distress, law is there to be used,” she said.

* Reuters with additional reporting from Bloomberg