Article published in the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies on 16th August 2018
As the infamous Russian motorcycle club ‘The Night Wolves’ establish a permanent presence in Central Europe, the Kremlin is well-placed to exert its influence in this problematic part of the EU
Russian tanks are back in Slovakia. On 26 July, a drone operated by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalists caught sight of old tanks, other armoured vehicles and police equipment at a former pig farm in Dolná Krupá, some 60 km from the capital city, Bratislava. Video captured by the drone also showed what appeared to be a training field and shooting range. When Jozef Hambálek, the owner saw journalists filming outside the complex, he came out to threaten the supposed trespassers. Hambálek is the head of the Nočná vlka Európa (Night Wolves Europe) group, a sister organisation of the infamous pro-Kremlin Russian motorcycle club Nochnye Volki (Night Wolves). Although similar organisations have been active in European countries for years, including in Serbia, Romania, Macedonia and Bulgaria, the Dolná Krupá complex is the first base to be opened by one of these clubs on European soil. The Slovak paramilitary group Slovenskí Branci (Slovak Levies) is also allegedly using the compound. The report of the discovery immediately caused an uproar, with Slovak President Andrej Kiska calling for preventive measures against what he considers to be a ‘serious security risk’.
However, the Night Wolves deny doing anything illegal. Their tanks are neither real nor Russian, and in fact are quite old vehicles that come from the Slovak Military History Institute. The compound cannot be described as an official representation of the Kremlin either. The Night Wolves are officially an independent bikers’ club and does not have any formal ties with the Russian government. Peter Susko, the spokesman of the Slovak foreign ministry, acknowledged that Slovakia could not refer to the Russian embassy to address its concerns with the complex at Dolná Krupá. Moreover, the base cannot really be considered a serious security threat. It is highly unlikely that the Night Wolves will drive their old tanks down to Bratislava with the aim of overthrowing the government. Hambálek claims that he plans to open a museum to honour Soviet units who used motorcycles in the Second World War, and as such, Russian media outlets immediately criticised the Slovak authorities’ ‘hysterical’ reaction.