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In the past, the space sector held great importance and potential in Russia. However, rather than focusing on the advancement of astronautics, which is facing difficulties, organizations like Roscosmos are currently providing support to the motorcycle group known as the Night Wolves, who are engaged in the war in Ukraine.

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  • Who are the Night Wolves and why are they fighting against Ukraine?

  • What does Roscosmos have to do with this?

  • Roscosmos and the Night Wolves Fifteen Battalion

Who are the Night Wolves and why are they fighting against Ukraine?

The Night Wolves are the first officially recognized biker club in the USSR, established in 1989. Its founder and long-standing leader is Alexander Zaldostanov (“The Surgeon”), a native of Kirovograd, Ukrainian SSR. Known for his Ukrainian phobia and nationalism, The Surgeon likes to boast about his friendship with Putin. In the early years of their existence, the “Night Wolves” were considered traditional bikers: they roared through the streets of Moscow on large motorcycles without mufflers, engaged in business ventures, and provided security for rock concerts (during the 90s, the level of trust in the police was low, so having “Guarded by the Night Wolves” on a concert poster was considered a sign of event quality). However, with Putin coming to power, the club's attitudes and character changed. The Wolves began referring to themselves not as “bikers” in the Western style but as “Russian motorcyclists” (Zaldostanov registered the NGO under this name back in 1995). On the main page of the official Night Wolves website, this transformation is described as follows:

“Although the club undoubtedly carried a rebellious spirit, it has always been rooted in Orthodox traditions and the history of its native land.”

The Kremlin found the nationalist macho values of the Wolves, combined with their affiliation with the Russian Orthodox Church, to be quite advantageous. Since the early 2000s, the club has actively participated in nationalist events, establishing connections with self-proclaimed patriotic politicians, movements, and artists (including Kadyrov). They coordinate their actions, such as the opening of the motorcycle season, and align them with the Orthodox calendar, while also collaborating closely with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Night Wolves coordinate their actions, such as the opening of the motorcycle season, and align them with the Orthodox calendar

Zaldostanov himself asserts that he met Putin during a live televised event in 2009. In July of the same year, Putin paid a visit to the bikers prior to their motorcycle show commemorating the 65th anniversary of Sevastopol's liberation, an event organized by the Night Wolves in Crimea. The Telegraph, a British newspaper that interviewed The Surgeon in 2015, suggests that the biker's relationship with the president may have influenced Putin's decision regarding Crimea. The Surgeon shared, “During every encounter with Putin, I would recount stories about Sevastopol. I presented him with letters, photographs from the region, and calendars featuring Russian naval vessels.”

Vladimir Putin and The Surgeon, 2009
Vladimir Putin and The Surgeon, 2009

Within the biker community, there have long been rumors of Zaldostanov's collaboration with security services, dating back to the Soviet era. Adding weight to this theory is the fact that The Surgeon easily established the first motorcycle club in the USSR in the late 1980s. Moreover, as a 20-year-old medical student, he was granted permission to travel to West Germany, where he worked as a security guard in the Sexton biker club and even married a German woman. Ukrainian media expert Alexey Kovzhun, who personally knew Zaldostanov, claimed in an interview that The Surgeon was a “creation of the Lubyanka with the objective of infiltrating emerging new movements.” While it is hard to verify this hypothesis, it remains evident that The Surgeon has demonstrated loyalty to the authorities since the time when the Chekist assumed the presidency.

From the very beginning of Russia's invasion of Ukrainian territory in 2014, members of the motorcycle club became some of the first volunteers in the Donbass militia. They participated in the capture of Luhansk and fought in battles for Luhansk Airport, Khraschevate, Novosvitlivka, and Debaltseve. It was they who built the first barricades in Luhansk and provided “security” on the streets of Sevastopol and Luhansk.

A year earlier, under the symbol of the Russian world, the Night Wolves accompanied a replica of the Tsar Bell during its transport to Sevastopol. On March 1 and April 6, 2014, members of the Night Wolves – Kyiv branch participated on the separatist side in the suppression of Euromaidan supporters and the storming of the Kharkiv Regional Administration building. Members of Russian branches of the “Night Wolves” have been fighting against Ukraine since 2014 as part of the Russo-Serbian volunteer brigade called “Volk” (Wolf).

In the document published by the U.S. Treasury Department, it is claimed that Zaldostanov personally coordinated operations to confiscate weapons from the Ukrainian army in Crimea during the seizure of the Ukrainian Naval Forces headquarters in March 2014, and the Night Wolves were part of the self-defense forces of Crimea in February 2014. In March of the same year, they participated in the storming of a gas distribution station and the seizure of the Ukrainian Naval Forces headquarters in Sevastopol.

Today, the Night Wolves and Alexander Zaldostanov personally are under sanctions from all European Union countries, the United States, Ukraine, and Switzerland.

What does Roscosmos have to do with this?

Founded in 1992, the state corporation Roscosmos is engaged in the development and operation of space systems and structures. Its main mission, as stated on its official website, is the development of the space industry of the Russian Federation. However, besides its primary tasks, and often contrary to them, Roscosmos implements a number of projects that are not entirely related to space, including in conjunction with the Night Wolves.

Roscosmos is involved in several projects that are not entirely related to space, including in conjunction with the Night Wolves

The association between Roscosmos and the Night Wolves began in 2017, when they jointly organized events of perceived social significance, aligned with pro-Russian propaganda efforts.

  • The first event was the motorcycle rally called “Our Cosmos–60,” dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the launch of the first artificial satellite of the Earth. Club members traveled over 11,000 kilometers carrying a flag autographed by the legendary Soviet cosmonaut Alexey Leonov. They visited Novosibirsk and Orenburg.
  • In 2020, Roscosmos handed over a descent module of the manned transport spacecraft Soyuz-MS to the headquarters of the Night Wolves in Sevastopol, and a liquid rocket engine combustion chamber RD-170 to their branch in Krasnogorsk near Moscow.
  • In August 2021, the flag of the Night Wolves, which had been used in another jointly organized motorcycle rally called “Our Cosmos,” was transported to the International Space Station (ISS). From the Earth's orbit, Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubov filmed a video message specifically for the Night Wolves.
  • In June 2022, the Russian Cosmonaut Training Center and the “Night Wolves” launched the second part of the motorcycle rally “Our Cosmos! Yuri Gagarin.” The procession included cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky and the Deputy Director-General of Roscosmos, Sergey Demin.
Sergei Demin, The Surgeon, Dmitry Rogozin, the ceremonial start of the motorcycle rally “Our Cosmos - 60. Yuri Gagarin,” 2021
Sergei Demin, The Surgeon, Dmitry Rogozin, the ceremonial start of the motorcycle rally “Our Cosmos - 60. Yuri Gagarin,” 2021

Close friends of the motorcycle club and participants in joint events include Hero of Russia Evgeny Tarelkin, who, along with the Surgeon, transported an oak sapling and a commemorative plaque to Donbass as part of an organized event by the motorcycle club called “Russian Forest.” Also among them are Valery Tokarev, pilot-cosmonaut and Hero of Russia, Dmitry Shishkin, Director of Roscosmos's Personnel Development and Project Support Department, and Vasily Marfin, Director of Production at NPO “Energomash,” a Roscosmos subsidiary

The Surgeon and cosmonaut Sergey Prokofiev
The Surgeon and cosmonaut Sergey Prokofiev

Roscosmos and the Night Wolves Fifteen Battalion

Since the commencement of the full-scale war against Ukraine, the Night Wolves and Roscosmos have found yet another shared endeavor.

In June 2014, agreements were established with the Night Wolves for the provision of services encompassing “patriotic youth education” and “municipal security” in Crimea, as well as in pro-Russian enclaves situated in Luhansk and Kharkiv regions in eastern Ukraine. Utilizing their local branches and social media platforms as a facade, the Night Wolves actively recruited fighters to serve in pro-Russian militias. It was during this time that The Surgeon crossed paths with Ahroy Avidzboy, the leader of the 15th International Brigade, commonly known as Fifteen. Collaborating with the battalions Sparta and Somali, Fifteen participated in fierce battles at Donetsk Airport, subsequently partook in the seizure of Vuhlehirsk, and engaged in combat near Marinka. At present, the brigade is headquartered in Donetsk.

In October 2022, the Night Wolves established a separate platoon within their brigade, consisting of volunteers from the “Night Wolves Fifteen” motorcycle club. Initially, it started as a small platoon under the command of biker Andrey Mishchenko, nicknamed Hollywood, the president of the Khimki branch of the Night Wolves. However, Fifteen quickly transformed into a company of approximately 50 people. After a two-week training with the main Fifteen brigade, the Night Wolves members engaged in combat operations. Currently, the Night Wolves Fifteen carry out independent tasks on the Avdiivka direction. Quad bikes are among the equipment used during combat actions.

Roscosmos was responsible for financing and providing support to the platoon. The state corporation supplied the “Night Wolves” with autonomous diesel generators, military tents, chainsaws, uniforms, medical supplies, and other necessary equipment. Moreover, the aid was delivered through the efforts of Roscosmos. Behind the wheel of the delivery vehicle was Artem, a motorcyclist from the Night Wolves' Krasnogorsk branch who also works as a mechanic at the Roscosmos enterprise Zvezdny.

Roscosmos was responsible for financing and providing support to the “Night Wolves Fifteen” platoon

According to the social media posts of the Night Wolves, on December 14, 2022, Roscosmos handed over a Ural motorcycle and one and a half tons of humanitarian aid to Fifteen. On January 20, 2023, the platoon received a UAZ vehicle (known as “Bukhanka”) from the state corporation, and on January 23, they received a PAZ vehicle, warm clothing, food, and cigarettes.

The leadership and employees of Roscosmos delivered four GAZ/UAZ vehicles with the license plate numbers У247АА 99RUS, О170КК 797RUS, У235АА 99RUS, У236АА 99RUS to the combat zone. They also provided 50 tactical Kevlar helmets and medications.

  • The first shipment of aid to “Fifteen”
  • A UAZ vehicle provided by Roscosmos to the motorcycle club platoon
  • Humanitarian aid provided by Roscosmos to the Night Wolves
  • Autonomous diesel heater from Roscosmos
  • Field stoves

Roscosmos provides assistance to other units participating in the war on the side of the Russian Federation. For example, in one of the videos, fighters express their gratitude to the corporation for providing optics for snipers.

Thus, instead of focusing on manned space exploration, planetary research, studying the Sun, astrophysics, and creating artificial satellites, Roscosmos allocates taxpayer money to support the aggressive war in Ukraine.

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