Who are the "Night Wolves" and why are they fighting against Ukraine?
Night Wolves is the first official biker club in the USSR, opened in 1989. Its founder and permanent leader is Alexander "Surgeon" Zaldostanov, a native of Kirovograd, Ukrainian SSR. A well-known Ukrainophobe and nationalist, Khirurg likes to brag about his friendship with Putin. In the early years of its existence, the Night Wolves were canonical bikers: they roared through the streets of Moscow on huge motorcycles without silencers, protected the business, guarded rock concerts (in the 90s, the level of trust in the police was low, and “guarded by the Night wolves"" on the poster was considered a sign of the quality of the event). But with Putin coming to power, the mood and character of the motorcycle club changed. The "wolves" began to call themselves not "bikers" in the Western manner, but "Russian motorcyclists" (Zaldostanov registered an NGO under this name back in 1995). On the main page of the Night Wolves official website, this rebirth is described as follows:
“Although the club, of course, carried a rebellious beginning, nevertheless, it always relied on Orthodox roots and the history of its country.”
The nationalist macho values of the “wolves” with an admixture of Russian Orthodoxy came in handy for the Kremlin: since the beginning of the 2000s, the club has been participating in nationalist events, actively contacts politicians, movements and artists who call themselves patriots (including Kadyrov), coordinates the opening of the motorcycle season and other events with the Orthodox calendar and cooperates with the Russian Orthodox Church.
"Night Wolves" coordinate the opening of the motorcycle season and other promotions with the Orthodox calendar
Zaldostanov himself claims to have met Putin during a television direct line in 2009. In July of the same year, Putin visited bikers on the eve of a bike show in honor of the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Sevastopol, which the Night Wolves held in Crimea. The British newspaper The Telegraph, which Khirurg interviewed in 2015, believes that the biker's relationship with the president could have pushed Putin towards a decision on Crimea. “Every time I met Putin, I told him about Sevastopol, I gave him letters and photographs from people from there, I gave him calendars with images of Russian ships,” the biker told the publication.
There have long been rumors in the biker community that Zaldostanov has been collaborating with the Chekists since Soviet times. This theory is supported by the fact that in the late 80s the Surgeon quietly opened the first motorcycle club in the USSR, and before that, he, a 20-year-old medical student, was freely allowed to travel to Germany, where he worked as a security guard at the Sexton bike club and was even married to a German woman. Ukrainian media expert Oleksiy Kovzhun, who is personally acquainted with Zaldostanov, stated in an interview that the Surgeon is “a Lubyanka development with the aim of introducing it into the growing new movements.” It is difficult to test this hypothesis, but one way or another, the Surgeon was loyal to the authorities from the very time when the Chekist became the head of state.
From the very beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, members of the motorcycle club became one of the first volunteers of the Donbass militia, took part in the capture of Luhansk, in the battles for Luhansk airport, Khryashchevatoye, Novosvetlovka, Debaltseve. It was they who built the first barricades in Lugansk, were engaged in the "protection" of the streets of Sevastopol and Luhansk.
A year earlier, under the symbol of the Russian world, the Night Wolves accompanied the Tsar-Bell during transportation to Sevastopol. On March 1 and April 6, 2014, members of the Night Wolves-Kyiv branch participated on the side of the separatists in the liquidation of Euromaidan supporters and the storming of the building of the Kharkiv regional administration. Members of the Russian branches of the Night Wolves have been fighting against Ukraine since 2014 as part of the Russian-Serb volunteer brigade Volk.
A document released by the U.S. Treasury alleges that Zaldostanov personally coordinated the operations to confiscate the weapons of the Ukrainian army in Crimea during the capture of the headquarters of the Ukrainian Naval Forces in March 2014, and the Night Wolves were part of the Crimean Self-Defense Forces in February 2014 . In March of the same year, they participated in the assault on the gas distribution station and the capture of the headquarters of the Ukrainian Naval Forces in Sevastopol.
Today, the Night Wolves and Alexander Zaldostanov personally are under sanctions from all EU countries, the USA, Ukraine and Switzerland.
What does Roscosmos have to do with it
Founded in 1992, the Roscosmos State Corporation is engaged in the development and operation of space systems and objects. The main mission, as stated on their official website, is the development of the space industry of the Russian Federation. Nevertheless, in addition to the main tasks, and most often in spite of it, Roskosmos is implementing a number of not quite space projects, including in conjunction with the Night Wolves.
Roskosmos is implementing a number of not quite space projects, including in conjunction with the Night Wolves
The friendship between Roskosmos and the Night Wolves began in 2017. The motorcycle club and the state corporation together held joint “publicly significant” events from the point of view of pro-Russian propaganda.
- The first was the motor rally "Our Cosmos - 60", dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the launch of the first artificial Earth satellite. Club members traveled more than 11,000 kilometers with a flag signed by the legendary Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, visited Novosibirsk and Orenburg.
- In 2020, Roskosmos handed over the descent vehicle of the Soyuz-MS manned transport spacecraft to the Night Wolves headquarters in Sevastopol, and the combustion chamber of the RD-170 liquid-propellant rocket engine to the office in Krasnogorsk near Moscow.
- In August 2021, the flag of the Night Wolves, which was used in the next motor rally organized jointly with Roscosmos "Our Cosmos", visited the ISS. And Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novinsky and Pyotr Dubov recorded a video message from Earth orbit for the Night Wolves.
- In June 2022, at the cosmonaut training center, Roskosmos and the Night Wolves launched the second part of the motorcycle race “Space is ours! Yuri Gagarin”, the column included cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky and Deputy General Director of Roscosmos Sergey Demin.
Also close friends of the motorcycle club and participants in joint events are Hero of the Russian Federation Yevgeny Tarelkin, who, together with the Surgeon, took an oak seedling and a commemorative plaque to Donbass as part of the Russian Forest event organized by the motorcycle club, pilot-cosmonaut, Hero of Russia Valery Tokarev, director of the Department of Personnel Development and project support of the Roscosmos State Corporation Dmitry Shishkin, production director of the Roscosmos subsidiary NPO Energomash Vasily Marfin.
Roskosmos and the Battalion "Night Wolves Pyatnashka"
Since the beginning of a full-scale war against Ukraine, the Night Wolves and Roscosmos have had another common cause.
In June 2014, contracts were awarded to the Night Wolves to provide "patriotic education for youth" and "municipal security services" in Crimea, as well as in the pro-Russian enclaves of Lugansk and Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. Using their local branches and social networks as a front, the Night Wolves recruited fighters to serve in pro-Russian militias. There, the Surgeon met the leader of the 15th International Brigade "Pyatnashka" Akhra Avidzba. Together with the "Sparta" and "Somalia" battalions, "Pyatnashka" fought at the Donetsk airport, then participated in the capture of Uglegorsk and the battles near Maryinka. Now the brigade is based in Donetsk.
In October 2022, the Night Wolves created a separate platoon as part of a brigade, which included volunteers from the Night Wolves Pyatnashka motorcycle club. Initially, it was a small platoon under the command of biker Andrei Mishchenko, nicknamed Hollywood, president of the Khimki branch of the Night Wolves. However, very soon "Pyatnashka" turned into a company of about 50 people. After a two-week training in the main Pyatnashka, the Night Wolves were already participating in hostilities. Now the "Night Wolves Pyatnashka" perform independent tasks in the Avdeevsky direction. In the course of hostilities, quad bikes are also used.
And Roskosmos was involved in financing and providing the platoon. The state corporation provided the Night Wolves with autonomous diesel generators, army tents, chainsaws, uniforms, medicines and other necessary equipment. Moreover, all assistance was delivered by the forces of Roskosmos. The car was driven by a motorcyclist from the Krasnogorsk branch of the Night Wolves Artem, who also works as a mechanic at the Zvezdny enterprise of Roscosmos.
Roskosmos was involved in financing and providing the platoon "Night Wolves Pyatnashka"
As follows from the social networks of the Night Wolves, on December 14, 2022, Roscosmos handed over to Pyatnashka a Ural motorcycle and one and a half tons of humanitarian aid. On January 20, 2023, the platoon received a UAZ car (“loaf”) from the state corporation, and on January 23 - a PAZ car, warm clothes, food and cigarettes.
The management and employees of Roskosmos transferred 4 GAZ / UAZ vehicles with the numbers u247AA 99RUS, o170kk 797RUS, u235aa 99RUS, u236 aa 99RUS, as well as 50 tactical Kevlar helmets and medicines to the combat zone.
Roskosmos also provides assistance to other units participating in the war on the side of the Russian Federation. So, for example, in one of the videos, the fighters thank the corporation for optics for snipers.
Thus, Roscosmos, instead of being engaged in manned cosmonautics, planetary exploration, the study of the Sun, astrophysics and the creation of artificial Earth satellites, directs taxpayers' money to support an aggressive war on the territory of Ukraine.