Europe

Russian pro-Putin bikers turned back at Polish border

Russian bikers leaving Belarus before being blocked at the Polish border, 27 April 2015 Image copyright EPA
Image caption The bikers were let through by Belarusian officials before being stopped by Polish guards

Ten bikers said to be from the Russian nationalist Night Wolves group have been turned back at the Polish border with Belarus.

The bikers had planned to cross Poland on their way to Berlin to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two in May.

The Polish government described their plans last week as "provocative".

The Night Wolves back Russian President Vladimir Putin's Ukraine policy - something strongly opposed by Poland.

The group is subject to US sanctions for alleged active involvement in Crimea - annexed by Russia from Ukraine last year - and for helping to recruit separatist fighters for Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption As they passed through Belarus, the bikers stopped at a WW2 memorial near Minsk

Russia's foreign ministry had already expressed "outrage" at Poland's ban.

The border guards, who did not specify that the bikers were Night Wolves members, said the 10 did not fulfil the conditions to enter and stay in Poland. Polish news agency PAP reported that the 10 were members of the Night Wolves.

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Media captionMoscow correspondent Sarah Rainsford went to a Night Wolves rally

They were held in a Polish facility at Terespol after Belarus frontier guards let them pass.

On Friday, the Polish foreign ministry cited safety concerns, saying the bikers had informed the Polish authorities of their plans too late and had provided vague information.

However, Polish media reports suggested some 200 Night Wolves bikers had managed to cross into Poland from the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad after obtaining visas, though they were not part of the group heading from Moscow to Berlin.

The Night Wolves' planned road trip through Poland stirred controversy because of the group's close association with Vladimir Putin and its support of Moscow's annexation of Crimea and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, the BBC's Adam Easton in Warsaw says.

Image copyright AFP / getty images
Image caption The Night Wolves are closely associated with Russia's President Putin

They are viewed in Poland as the "Kremlin's Hells Angels", he adds.

However, some Polish bikers are reported to view the Night Wolves favourably, with one group offering to escort them on their trip through Poland.

On Sunday, the Night Wolves stopped at a memorial at Khatyn near Minsk in Belarus, to pay tribute to the victims of a Nazi massacre in 1943, when their village was razed to the ground.

They intend to cross several countries on a 6,000km (3,720 mile) trip following the path taken by the Red Army in World War Two, with the aim of arriving in Berlin in time to coincide with Victory Day celebrations in Moscow on 9 May.

Correction 28 April 2015: This story originally referred mistakenly to Katyn, where thousands of Polish officers were murdered by Soviet secret police in 1940.

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