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Russia’s Night Wolves Motorcycle Club: from 1%ers to political activists

Abstract

In the late 2000s, the Night Wolves Motorcycle Club, Russia’s largest motorcycle organization, became closely intertwined with the Kremlin’s domestic and international agendas, although only a decade ago they protested against the Soviet establishment and called for freedom and democracy. This article traces the ideological development of the Night Wolves, explores the nature of their relationship with the Kremlin, and evaluates their role in President Vladimir Putin’s sistema—a system of governance grounded on informal mechanisms of power distribution and personalized loyalties. In addition, the article analyzes the activities of the Night Wolves in Ukraine and their role in the consolidation of pro-Russian forces and propagation of Kremlin-designed narratives.

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Notes

  1. From George Christie’s interview for the Russian version of Maxim in August 2015. The transcript of the interview is available in Russian at http://www.maximonline.ru/longreads/interview/_article/george-christie/ (accessed 14 December 2016). Back translation of Christie’s quote into English is mine.

  2. Stiliagi was a Soviet youth subculture that emerged in the early 1950s. Adherents of this subculture wore fashionable imported clothes and were fond of American music of the 1940s, especially swing and boogie-woogie.

  3. Komsomol was a youth organization controlled by the Communist Party. It existed between 1918 and 1991.

  4. Today, Sexton is a restaurant, bar, nightclub, and the official headquarters of the NWMC in Moscow.

  5. A common name used in Russia to refer to World War II.

  6. Hangaround is the first stage of membership in the HAMC.

  7. The Anti-Maidan movement was founded in January 2015 by a group of pro-government social activists with the aim to counter “color revolutions” and civil resistance movements in Russia. The name is derived from the Ukrainian word Maidan, which originally means “city square” but has been broadly used to describe anti-government protests since the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution.

  8. Federal Law of 23.05.2015 N 129-FZ “On Amendments of Some Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation.” The text of the law is available in Russian at: http://publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001201505230001?index=0&rangeSize=1. As of August 2016, the list of “undesirable organizations” includes seven organizations, among which are the Soros Foundation, National Endowment for Democracy, and Freedom House.

  9. Vatnik (sing.) is a derogatory term used in reference to individuals with pro-Russian chauvinistic views.

  10. Kolorad (sing.) is a derogatory term for a pro-Russian separatist in Ukraine coined after the Colorado beetle—a striped insect whose colors resemble Saint George’s ribbon, a widely known black and orange military symbol in Russia.

  11. Titushki (pl.), an eponymous term derived from the surname of Vadym Titushko, a Ukrainian martial arts fighter who took part in the attacks against Euromaidan participants. The term has been used to refer to athletic young men paid to harass, intimidate, and physically attack people, especially anti-government protestors, at public gatherings.

  12. Berkut was the official name of special police units dissolved in February 2014 in connection with their excessive violence and brutality used against Euromaidan protesters in Kyiv in November 2013.

References

Interviews with Aleksandr Zaldostanov

Night Wolves MC official websites

Hells Angels MC official websites

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Correspondence to Yuliya Zabyelina.

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Funding

This study was sponsored by a grant from the Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York [PSC CUNY Cycle 48]. The opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in this publication, however, are those of the author and do not reflect either those of John Jay College of Criminal Justice or the City University of New York.

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The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

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Zabyelina, Y. Russia’s Night Wolves Motorcycle Club: from 1%ers to political activists. Trends Organ Crim 22, 51–65 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12117-017-9314-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12117-017-9314-7

Keywords

  • Outlaw motorcycle club
  • Subculture
  • Nationalism
  • Organized crime
  • International sanctions
  • Military conflict in Donbas