Putin Russia bikers
Vladimir Putin rides with Alexander Zaldostanov, leader of Nochniye Volki (the Night Wolves) biker groupREUTERS/Ivan Sekretarev

Plans by one of Russia's largest biker clubs, Nochniye Volki (the "Night Wolves") to ride through Poland en route to Berlin have been greeted with fury, with some Poles threatening physically to block their route.

The Night Wolves, whose leader, Alexander "The Surgeon" Zaldostanov is a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, were filmed in Crimea during the 2014 unrest. Zaldostanov was placed on a US Treasury blacklist in 2014.

The Russian Federation of Motorcycle Tourism claims the bikers simply wish to commemorate the defeat of German fascism by the Red Army. However, some Poles are angry at the suggestion, arguing that the Soviet Red Army committed as many atrocities during World War II as the Nazis.

One activist, Marcin Rey, told Newsweek that far from being simply bikers the Night Wolves are "politically motivated, state-supported thugs on motorbikes".

Russians Germany 1945
Soviet soldiers in Berlin at the end of World War IIWikipedia

"They should not be let in to Poland," said Rey. "If they are, they will have a very hard time. They are not welcome. Zaldostanov says Russia has liberated Poland. In Poland, we do not consider the Red Army to have liberated us. Nazi Germany and communist USSR were allies from 1939 until 1941 and attacked Poland simultaneously."

The Russian bikers begin their 6,000-km journey on 25 April, riding via Minsk, Wroclaw, Brno, Bratislava, Vienna, Munich and Prague before entering Berlin on 9 May in time for a commemoration of the defeat of Nazism. However, authorities in Berlin told Newsweek they had no knowledge of the event.

Over 20m Russians died during the fight to destroy Nazism and most historians agree that without their contribution the Germans could not have been beaten. However, for Polish activists such as Rey the "Red Army" was a force to be feared, not celebrated.

"When the Red Army came to Poland on its way west, it was a new occupation," says Rey. "They killed, they destroyed, and they raped hundreds of thousand Polish women indiscriminately. There are still many people in Poland that remember that."

Rey has set up a Facebook page to lobby Poland's government not to allow the bikers to pass through and has called for non-violent protest, but says some football hooligans on the page have called for more violent action.

"You don't have to throw stones or Molotov cocktails to block them," says Rey. "It would be using their methods. We are civilised people."