‘Putin's Angels’: Who are the ‘Night Wolves’, the Russian motorcycle gang, that Novak Djokovic’s father posed with?
Novak Djokovic’s father – Srdjan – stirred a row after his video at the Australian Open with the pro-Vladimir Putin group called the Night Wolves cropped up. The infamous motorbike gang is known for its avid support of the Russian president and his policies, especially regarding Ukraine
It’s not just Novak Djokovic’s quarter-final win over Russia’s Andrey Rublev that is making headlines at the Australian Open.
Novak’s father – Srdjan Djokovic – has managed to steal the limelight from his son’s game by posing with the notorious ‘Night Wolves’ motorcycle gang, which is known for its public support of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
On Thursday (26 January), a video uploaded by Aussie Cossack, a pro-Russian Australian account, on YouTube showed Srdjan purportedly saying: “zivjeli Russiyani” or “long live Russian citizens”, as per The Guardian.
As per AFP, the video was captioned, “Novak Djokovic’s father makes bold political statement.”
The man alongside Novak’s father could be seen wearing a shirt with the logo of the Night Wolves. Srdjan’s picture with a man holding a Russian flag with Putin’s face on it has also stoked controversy.
Calling the incident a “disgrace”, Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia urged tennis officials to ban Srdjan Djokovic from the Australian Open.
Speaking to AFP, Ambassador Vasyl Myroshnychenko also asked the tennis ace to clear his stance on Russia’s war with Ukraine. “He should apologise for what has happened, and condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Myroshnychenko asserted.
Following the backlash, Djokovic’s father said today that he will stay away from his son’s Australian Open semi-final, saying he wants to avoid further “disruption” and “wishes only for peace”, AFP reported.
Who are the ‘Night Wolves’ and why are they called ‘Putin’s angels’? How Srdjan Djokovic has created controversy in the past? We explain.
The ‘Night Wolves’
The Night Wolves is a motorbike gang with chapters in Russia as well as across several European countries.
Formed during the 1980s, the Night Wolves is Russia’s “largest and most infamous motorcycle club”, says The Guardian.
Alexander Zaldostanov, the gang’s founder and international president, has been nicknamed ‘the Surgeon’ because of his career as a facial reconstruction doctor in the 1980s, according to VICE News in 2015.
Fortune magazine noted that Zaldostanov has been an avid supporter of Putin and his policies, especially those regarding Ukraine.
Putin has also previously called the members of the gang his “friends”. The Russian president has been pictured with the group on several occasions including when he embarked on a motorcycle joyride with Zaldostanov and other members in Crimea in 2019.
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Night Wolves, which began as a rock concert biker club, has transformed into a “key component of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine”, says The Guardian.
Some call them ‘Putin’s Angels’ because of the Russian president’s vocal support for them and the gang’s “brand of ultranationalism”, as per The Telegraph.
After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, the members of the group led by Zaldostanov marched the streets of the Ukrainian peninsula.
With thousands of members around the world, the gang’s Ukraine chapter also fought alongside “Russian-backed, separatist militias” during Moscow’s invasion of Crimea, The Telegraph reported.
In 2015, the Russian president bestowed medals on Zaldostanov for his “patriotic work” in curbing pro-democracy protests in Russia.
Zaldostanov told VICE News that year that he had been “encouraging” Putin to “take over Crimea for years”.
Due to the group’s involvement in Crimea’s annexation, the United States put sanctions on Zaldostanov in 2014.
Zaldostanov also backed “anti-Maidan” protests in Moscow, opposing the pro-European uprising in Ukraine in 2014.
In July last year, nearly four months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the European Union (EU) sanctioned the Night Wolves and its four leaders.
Dubbing it a “nationalist motorcycle club,” the European Commission said the group has been “actively involved” in Russia’s military campaign against Ukraine since 2014.
The EU also accused the group’s leader of “actively supporting Russian state propaganda through publicly denying Ukraine’s right to statehood and calling for the “denazification” as well as the “de-Ukrainisation” of the country”, as per Fortune.
The EU also alleged that the president of the gang’s European chapter, Josef Hambálek, had been training Night Wolves members on a former military base in Slovakia to fight in Ukraine.
Srdjan Djokovic stirs row
On Wednesday, Srdjan Djokovic was seen with a person wearing a pro-war “Z” symbol shirt outside Rod Laver Arena in Australia, which spurred a row.
But this is not the first time that Novak’s father has been embroiled in a controversy.
Srdjan called Swiss tennis star Roger Federer “not such a good man” two years back.
When Novak was detained and deported from Australia earlier last year, Srdjan and his wife Dijana joined a protest rally in Serbia’s Belgrade, outside the National Assembly buildings.
He had also referred to the Australian prime minister as a “dictator” and called upon “the Queen of Britain, Elizabeth, the leader of the Commonwealth” to intervene and end the “political prosecution” of his son, reported The Telegraph.
With inputs from agencies
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