Ride or die? More like try to ride.
An ultra-nationalist Russian biker gang riding under the banner “For the Motherland, for Stalin” set off on a cross-European ride to mark the end of World War II — but didn't get very far.
Twelve members of the Night Wolves — who have longstanding ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin — were stopped at the Belarus-Polish border on Monday evening.
“[Polish border guards] said we are not allowed to pass through the Polish territory and that I — as the organizer — am not allowed to enter the [European Union] territory at all,” Andrey Bobrovsky told NBC News on the telephone. He said that there had been Polish bikers waiting to greet his group on the other side of the border as a show of support.
Now, Bobrovsky's gang must decide what to do next — keep trying or turn back.
The bikers had hoped to drive through Poland, Slovakia, Austria and the Czech Republic, and arrive to Berlin on May 9 to lay flowers at the memorial of Soviet WWII war dead. But governments in countries en route to Berlin called the trip a provocation.
Poland blocked their entry after local activists started a Facebook page called “No to the passage of bandits from Russia through Poland” garnered 12,000 followers.
After the upsurge in public discontent, Poland’s foreign ministry said the group was barred from entering the country because of “security issues” and officials said the Night Wolves wouldn't be able to cross into Germany because of the group’s participation in Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Russia's annexation — and reported involvement in the Ukraine conflict — has sunk relations between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
Germany’s Foreign Ministry said last week it does not believe that the bikers would “contribute to the strengthening of German-Russian relations” and Germany’s government reportedly has annulled visas for some Night Wolves members.
Despite the warnings, hundreds of the leather-clad bikers from all over Russia gathered at a bike club in western Moscow on Saturday to see off a few dozen of their compatriots on the journey through Europe. The bikers played patriotic songs on their Harleys’ loudspeakers and waved Russian flags and Ukrainian separatist banners as they departed to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II — known in Russia as The Great Patriotic War.
Night Wolves leader Alexander Zaldostanov — known as “Surgeon” — told NBC News the European reaction was an attempt to diminish the role of the Soviet Union in the World War II.
“(It’s) an attempt to re-write history, to fight against our victory, to take our victory away from us,” Zaldostanov said. According to the bearded bikers’ leader, the European authorities are afraid of the support the bikers are getting across Europe.
“It’s a hysteria on a state level,” he said.
—NBC News' Andy Eckardt and Reuters contributed to this report.