The Night Wolves, a Russian motorcycle gang known as Putin’s Angels and widely viewed as agents of the Kremlin, have roared up to a top Romanian beauty spot for a conflab and picnic.
Dozens of bikers from Romania and other countries rode to Gura Humorului, a scenic town in northeast Romania near the Ukrainian border.
An official from Moscow’s embassy in Bucharest who went along for the Saturday get-together called the bikers “courageous people.”
The U.S. has placed members of the group on a sanctions’ list, accusing them of kidnapping and assault in the Russian takeover of Crimea.
The meet happened on Saturday and was organized by the Andrian Fabian, who coordinates the Romanian chapter of the Russian group, Adevărul reported.
Russian embassy adviser Alexander Vasiliev joined the opening festivities, the outlet reported.
„Thanks for letting me join you, you courageous people,” he was quoted as saying. “This is perhaps the prettiest part of Romania.”
He added it was “a surprise” to find the Russian motorcycle gang in Romania.
Anti-Russian sentiment is generally strong in Romania, with some exceptions.
The Russian Orthodox Church, the state religion, has forged links in recent years with its sister Romanian Orthodox Church. Gura Humorului is in a historic area famous for old Romanian monasteries.
Through news outlets such as Sputnik, Moscow supports anti-European and anti-Western sentiment in Romania. The former Communist country is a member of the EU and NATO.
Russia is reported to be implicated in the nationalist Alliance for the Union of Romanians which stunned pundits when it came from nowhere to take 4th place in 2020 parliamentary elections.
Party leader George Simion denied the Kremlin was behind the party and called Russia “a security threat” to Romania.
But the Russian adviser Vasiliev said he was encouraged by Saturday’s meeting.
“It’s a sign that my country’s has influence in sport, not just economic or cultural.”
Other motorcycle clubs attended the meeting. Fabian Andrian said: “The location is public, we are open, anyone cane come and chat and see the motorbikes and eat a traditional balmos (polenta and cheese) .”
Asked what the purpose was, Mr Andrian said he wanted to show that Russian bikers were friendly. “We like to hang out and meet each other, like Romanians clubs do.”
His wife Maria said she’d visited Crimea in 2018, four years after it was annexed by Russia which led to a rift with the West.
“Crimea is fantastic, the people are exceptional, welcoming,” she said. “I didn’t see any conflict.”
Members of the Night Wolves went on the bikes to Crimea to set up road blocks and provide other support for a Moscow-orchestrated takeover of the Ukrainian peninsula on the Black Sea in 2014, the New York Times reported.
The U.S. Treasury Department placed the gang on a sanctions list in December 2014. It accused bikers of kidnapping, assault and close ties to Russia’s security services, the paper said.