Russian Cossacks set off on WWII memorial horse ride to Berlin

31st May 2015, Comments 0 comments

A group of Russian Cossacks have set off on a horse trek from Moscow to Berlin to commemorate 70 years since the WWII defeat of Nazi Germany, the event organiser said Sunday.

Some 20 horsemen aim to spend the next month covering the roughly 2,500 kilometres to Germany, travelling through Belarus and Poland along the route taken by Soviet cavalry during World War II.

"We plan that they will arrive in Berlin by July 22," the organiser Pavel Moshchalkov told AFP, after the riders set off from the Russian capital on Saturday.

Footage broadcast on Russian television showed the Cossacks in military dress uniform -- complete with ceremonial swords -- riding through Moscow carrying a Russian flag.

The horse trek comes after a fiercely nationalist motorcycle gang backed by President Vladimir Putin sparked outrage in Eastern Europe by trying to ride to Berlin to celebrate the Red Army's victory earlier this month.

Bikers from the Night Wolves group were turned back at the Polish and Lithuanian border as Moscow and Warsaw engaged in a diplomatic spat over the trip.

The people behind the horseback event -- which has been funded by private contributions -- insisted that their journey was amicable and was hoping to avoid any controversy.

"It is a journey of friendship. The Germans have reacted positively to our trips but how the Poles will react is difficult to say," Moshchalkov said, pointing to an earlier succesful horse ride from Russia to France in 2012.

"The event is absolutely apolitical. There are no links to any politics."

Moscow's regional government said in a statement that the Cossacks would hold cultural events, including concerts and horse shows, along the way, and be joined by horsemen from Poland and Germany.

Russia and the West are currently locked in a bitter standoff over the Ukraine crisis, with countries in eastern Europe especially eyeing Moscow's meddling in its ex-Soviet neighbour with trepidation.

© 2015 AFP

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