Slovak President Andrej Kiska says a recently established local base for a Russian motorcycle club known for its allegiance to the Kremlin presents a security risk for the EU and NATO country.
The members of the group, called the Night Wolves, helped Russian troops annex the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and are not just "harmless motorcycle lovers," Kiska said on July 31, calling on the Slovak government to take measures to get rid of the compound in the western town of Dolna Krupa, about 60 kilometers northeast of Bratislava.
The Night Wolves club and their leader, Aleksandr Zaldostanov, who calls himself "the Surgeon," are known for promoting Russian nationalism as well as allegiance to President Vladimir Putin, and have been hit with sanctions from the West over their support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
"Side by side with the Russian Army's special forces, the Night Wolves took part in military operations in Crimea.... They are no harmless motorcycle lovers. The Night Wolves are a tool of a regime that took part in the usurpation of a territory of a neighboring country [of Slovakia], in the annexation of parts of Ukraine in violation of international law," Kiska said in a statement.
Kiska, who was speaking after meeting with the chiefs of Slovak intelligence services, said the existence of the Dolna Krupa base where the Night Wolves operate along with a local pro-Russian paramilitary group contradicts Slovakia's official foreign policy.
"The establishment of a so-called European headquarters of the Night Wolves in Slovakia is a mockery of the Slovak Republic's official position on the annexation of Crimea and Russian policies," Kiska said, calling on the government to take preemptive action against "dubious groups who take a free ride in our country."
In reaction to Kiska's statement, the government's press office issued a statement saying no action will be taken without an investigation by the Prosecutor-General's Office, as well as the police.
"It's not up to Andrej Kiska, but instead it's up to these authorities to decide whether the Night Wolves are a security risk for Slovakia," the statement said.
Police have said they are monitoring the group’s activities but that so far they've seen nothing illegal.
Slovakia, which joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004, was confronted in March with the largest protests since the fall of communism after investigative journalist Jan Kuciak was killed together with his fiancee after publishing several articles alleging ties between the Italian mafia and then-Prime Minister Robert Fico's leftist Smer Social Democracy party.
The anticorruption protests prompted the resignation of Fico, who was replaced by his deputy, Robert Pellegrini.