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Night Wolves ride for Russia

By By Agence France-Presse in Moscow | China Daily | Updated: 2014-10-08 07:44

Roaring through Moscow after dark with big motorcycles, long hair and leather jackets, the Night Wolves could be Russia's version of Hell's Angels. But these are riders with a cause, and that cause is the motherland.

"Our values are quite simple: love your country, have faith and don't use or sell drugs," said Alexander Benish, second in command of the motorcycle club whose members Russian President Vladimir Putin calls his "brothers".

They may share a passion for the open road, but the Night Wolves - Nochnye Volki in Russian - reject the US biker label altogether.

"The biker lifestyle is anti-social. It's all about 'let's drink beer, break glasses, and if anyone has a problem with that, we beat them up'," said Benish, who at 46 has been a Wolf for two decades.

"They think they are better than the rest of society, and they have this cult of violence. That's not our philosophy. We only use violence as a last resort."

Founded in 1989, just before the fall of the Soviet Union, the Night Wolves have spread across Russia and the former Soviet bloc. The group has an estimated 5,000 members - including the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Their leader - a bearded six-foot colossus who goes by the name of Khirurg, "The Surgeon" - has been spotted riding in official parades beside the Russian president, who has often praised the club's patriotic credentials.

Motherland, manhood

"We consider ourselves part of the army of Russia," said Khirurg, whose real name is Alexander Zaldostanov.

Passers-by stop to snap pictures in front of the club's motto - "Wherever we are, that is Russia" - and their emblem of a burning wolf howling at a full moon.

Although the club has no official status in Russia, its riders can be relied upon to put on a show of patriotic strength wherever needed.

"Love of country fortifies a man," said Benish. "It is essential that our members show their patriotism."

"That doesn't mean we believe Russians are the best. Everyone can be a patriot in their own country," he added.

The Night Wolves say they welcome members from across the former Soviet Union, regardless of religious beliefs and count Muslims in their ranks, alongside the Orthodox Christian majority.

Its riders come from varied social backgrounds, from car mechanics, to businessmen - even a few monks.

"Everyone is free to join - except for women. 'No woman no cry'," joked Benish in a play on the Bob Marley lyric. "Years ago when it was founded, the club was a kind of symbol of virility, of what it means to be a man."

'Pretty demanding'

Under a thick leafy canopy, 27-year-old finance lecturer, Timur has pulled up his bike alongside five dozen others lined up in front of an open-air bar on the outskirts of the Russian capital.

The club has more than 46 branches across the former Soviet Union, but for aspiring young members the journey begins in the wolf's den.

"I hope to join them one day," said Timur with a beer in his hand.

To become a Wolf, Timur would need to be invited in by an existing member, and take part in club events - from the high-profile mission down to local street parades - for a two-year period.

From then on, he would get to climb the grades - up to third, the highest. Straying from the club's rules could see him knocked back a rank, or temporarily stripped of the right to wear the Wolves' insignia.

"It's a pretty demanding atmosphere," Benish warned.

 Night Wolves ride for Russia

Members of the Night Wolves motorcycle club ride through Moscow in September.  Vasily Maximov / Agence France-Presse


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