- Russian President Vladimir Putin attended a biker rally in the Crimean city of Sevastopol on Saturday while massive demonstrations for fair elections were taking place in Moscow.
- The organisers of the festival, the Night Wolves, are a right-wing Russian nationalist group with ties to the Kremlin.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin rode into Sevastopol, Crimea on a motorcycle on Saturday to attend a biker rally organised by right-wing Russian nationalist group the Night Wolves, according to the BBC.
Putin’s attendance with the Night Wolves – whose leader has said wherever the group is “should be considered Russia” – is symbolically important in Crimea; Putin annexed the peninsula by force from Ukraine in 2014. Ukraine’s foreign ministry said Saturday’s stunt was a “blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty,” according to the BBC.
The biker rally took place as tens of thousands gathered in Moscow to demand free and fair municipal elections in September,the BBC reports. Opposition parties have been barred from participating in the elections.
Check out the following slides to see photos of Putin’s trip to Crimea – and why it’s more than just a presidential visit.
Putin posed for selfies with members of the Night Wolves, which supported the annexation of Crimea. It’s the largest such group in Russia and has close ties to the Kremlin. The Night Wolves hold their annual motorcycle show in Sevastopol.
The Night Wolves, or “Nochniye Volki” in Russian, are a hyper-nationalist group whose leader, Alexander “The Surgeon” Zaldostanov, has said he would die for Putin and that “wherever the Night Wolves are, that should be considered Russia.”
Source: Rolling Stone
Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, using Russian special forces. Russia denied the presence of its forces on the peninsula, but a month after unidentified forces took over government buildings there, Putin signed a treaty annexing Crimea.
Source: Business Insider
Putin attended the event as some 60,000 protesters rallied in Moscow on Saturday for fair municipal elections. Over the past month, both official and unofficial protests have taken place in Russia over bans preventing opposition parties from running in municipal elections in September.
Putin rode with Sergey Askyonov, the head of a small pro-Russia party in Crimea who was appointed the head of Crimea after the Russian takeover. “Crimea will never return to Ukraine, and it’s senseless to set any conditions to that end,” he told NPR In 2018. The other passenger in Putin’s motorcycle is Mikhail Razvozhayev, acting governor of Sevastopol.
While Crimea has a majority of Russian speakers, there are also sizable minorities of Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars.
According to the BBC, Crimea came under the control of a Tatar Khanate in 1443, after centuries of Greek and Roman influence. It eventually came under Ottoman control and remained there until it was annexed by the Russian empire under Catherine the Great in 1783, the same year that part of the Russian fleet was stationed at the port of Sevastopol.
During the Crimean War in the 1850s, Britain and France sent troops to Crimea to combat what they saw as Russian imperialistic ambition. Crimea was occupied by the Nazis during World War II; when it came under Soviet control, Stalin expelled Crimean Tatars, saying they were Nazi collaborators. They were sent to Central Asia and Siberia, where many died. In 1954, Russia handed over control of Crimea to Ukraine.
Putin’s government has a history of engaging with right-wing nationalist groups in Russia. While the nationalism displayed by the Night Wolves isn’t new, rights groups say Putin has harnessed it to support his imperialistic tendencies, maintain his grip on power, and oppress minority groups like LGBT Russians, ethnic minorities, and political dissidents.
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