A senior member of the Moscow-based Russian Armenian union has denied that an upcoming trip of a group of motorcyclists to Nagorno-Karabakh will involve members of the controversial nationalist biker gang linked with the Kremlin.
The Night Wolves, whose leader Alexander Zaldostanov, nicknamed “The Surgeon”, is friends with Russian President Vladimir Putin, are subject to sanctions in several countries in the West, including in the United States and Canada, for their alleged active involvement in the Russian annexation of Crimea and for helping recruit separatist fighters for Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.
The biker gang also sparked controversy in Europe in May when it set off from Moscow to Berlin to mark the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.
Last week some Armenian media reported that the Night Wolves were expected to arrive in Armenia and ride all the way to Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-controlled region disputed with Azerbaijan, at the end of July.
But in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) this week Levon Mukanian, a deputy chairman of the Union of Armenians of Russia (UAR), insisted that those planning to visit Armenia are ethnic Armenian citizens of Russia and they are not affiliated with the notorious biker club.
He said the Night Wolves will only “show assistance” to their ethnic Armenian counterparts and that it will only be limited to the territory of Russia.
Mukanian said that the statements made by his colleague Sergey Sazhumian through the Armenian media were “misconstrued”. But he found it difficult to say exactly whether Zorik Tovmasian, the biker who is expected to lead the motorcyclist trip to Karabakh, is not himself a member of the Night Wolves. He emphasized, however, that the trip will be held under the motto of “We Are For Peace”.
“I want to stress that our media colleagues have no reasons to worry. There is no politics in all of this,” Mukanian said.
At the same time, the UAR’s deputy head said that he did not understand why the Night Wolves were being presented in a negative light in Armenian media. In his opinion, it would have been “a great event” if the pro-Putin biker club visited Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
“They should have been invited and conditions should have been created so that these people could see Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh,” Mukanian concluded.