Poland denies entry to pro-Putin bikers planning WWII victory ride
Poland on Friday said it had denied entry to a Russian biker gang backed by the Kremlin, which is planning to ride through Europe to celebrate the Soviet Union's role in the World War II victory over Nazi Germany.
The planned two-week, 6,000-kilometre (3,728-mile) rally by Russian bikers including the Night Wolves -- a fiercely nationalistic motorcycle club backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin -- had sparked anger in Poland.
The bikers planned to pass through Belarus, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria before ending in Berlin on May 9 for the 70th anniversary of the war's end.
Poland's foreign ministry said in a statement on its website that it had informed the Russian embassy in Warsaw of its "refusal to grant entry into Poland to an organised biker group that included members of the Night Wolves club".
"The entry was refused due to the lack of required precise information about the schedule of the group's stay in Poland, its exact routes through the country, and accommodation of club members."
This information was necessary to ensure the safety of those taking part in the rally, the ministry said.
Last week, Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz described the rally as a "provocation," while a Polish Facebook page called on authorities to ban the Russians from the EU.
For many Poles the rally is a reminder of the decades the country spent under Moscow's thumb during the Soviet era. The EU member is also one of the strongest supporters of Ukraine's pro-Western government.
Night Wolves leader Alexander Zaldostanov is under US and Canadian sanctions for his support of Moscow's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine last year.
But the Russian bikers insist their journey is not politically motivated.
"The main goal is to pay respects to those killed on WWII battlefields in the struggle against Hitler's Nazis," rally organiser Andrei Bobrovsky told AFP.
The bikers had wanted to visit the former Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, which Nazi Germany installed in occupied Poland and the Red Army liberated at war's end.
© 2015 AFP