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This Pro-Putin Bike Show Is A Trashy Neo-Soviet “Triumph Of The Will” Remake

With a special guest appearance from Steven Seagal.

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KIEV, Ukraine — They had driven hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles from all across Russia, through mountains, steppe, and taiga, to the biker rally in the Crimean naval redoubt of Sevastopol.

Around 100,000 fans cheered as they rolled into the arena wearing black leather jackets, camouflage fatigues, and a Russian admiral's uniform, flying flags of pro-Russian rebel groups in eastern Ukraine from their motorcycles.

A red Soviet star lit up the night sky beside an active duty Russian battleship. A heavy metal anthem vowing to reestablish Moscow's rule in Sevastopol played over the loudspeaker.

"We won't give up our cities," it sang. "We're united by our blood and our faith."

Long considered an amusing, if slightly troubling, carnival sideshow to Russian politics, the Night Wolves are a motorcycle gang known for their outlandish historical reconstructions and fervent devotion to President Vladimir Putin. Their latest show struck a defiant chord for a new breed of Russian nationalism over the weekend, with a grandiose, neo-Soviet spectacle that was the starkest, strangest illustration yet of the Kremlin's ideological hardening over the Ukraine crisis.

Part Hell's Angels performing circus, part Mad Max-style militaristic display of power, the rally pitted goosestepping, torch-wielding Nazis against motocross riders performing acrobatic stunts to the heavy metal strains of Metallica and Ronnie James Dio.

Broadcast live on state television and held with Putin's personal seal of approval, the event's 80 actors, 30 pyrotechnicians, and 5,000 bikers staged a reenactment of the Ukrainian conflict that glorified the Moscow-backed rebels and portrayed the pro-Western government in Kiev as Nazi puppets of the perfidious capitalist West.

The sentiments expressed were not entirely new. For months, Russian officials and state TV news anchors have repeated ad nauseam claims that the Western-backed government that took power in Kiev after protests overthrew a pro-Russian president in February is under the thumb of a fascist vanguard hell-bent on persecuting Russians.

The Night Wolves, for their part, have long gathered at political hotspots to promote pan-Slavic values and Russian nationalism, and claim a special resonance with Sevastopol, which is home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet and saw some of the fiercest fighting on the eastern front in World War II. Their 2012 rally, which Putin attended, was dedicated to recognizing it as a Russian city; this year they toured the peninsula after Russian special forces seized it. They are also fond of historical reenactments: last year's rally was dedicated to the anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad.

The sheer scale and pomp of the biker rally, however, showed the Kremlin has no intention of backing down over Ukraine as fears of a Russian military intervention in the east rise.

Putin, who is expected to make a major policy speech before both houses of parliament in Crimea on Thursday, skipped this year's rally, but the Night Wolves still enjoy his patronage.

Via Rossiya / RTR

The group's leader, Alexander "The Surgeon" Zaldostanov — seen here riding alongside Putin — even has an Order of Merit for his "patriotic work among the young."

Nazis! Russia-hating fascist Ukrainian junta Nazis!

Via Rossiya 2

While far-right nationalists did play an outsize role in the protests in Kiev, their numbers and subsequent influence on Ukrainian politics have been relatively negligible. Many of them are now members of volunteer police battalions fighting pro-Russia militias in eastern Ukraine.

Fighting riot police!

Via Rossiya 2

The protests against Yanukovych in Kiev last winter became famous worldwide for images of protesters battling riot police. While most of the western world sympathized with the protesters against what they saw as police brutality, Russian state media portrayed the clashes as the riot officers' brave restraint in the face of a neo-Nazi mob.

Then Zaldostanov read a poem about how they were actually Western puppet Nazis.

Via Rossiya 2

"Lackeys of eternal Europe, her spiritual slaves, you perverted the legacy of your fathers and turned your descendants into slaves. Foreign lands are dearer to you than your motherland, and you are thus fated to know only the will of your master, and bow to him for all eternity."

After a brief gunfight, rebels waving flags of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics seized the APCs.

Via Rossiya 2

Ukraine and the U.S. claim the rebels actually get most of their equipment from Russia.

After the finale, Zaldostanov read out a special message from Putin to the bikers.

Via Rossiya 2

"Today, in the legendary hero-city of Sevastopol, bedecked with military glory, friends have gathered again, old, faithful friends fused by the brotherhood of the motorcycle," Putin wrote. "Today's meeting is special — it is during the year of Crimea's reunification with Russia. I am sure that a truly celebratory and triumphal mood unites all the participants."

The next evening, Zaldostanov gave Steven Seagal — who also hangs out with Putin — a trophy of a Russian warrior and a Putin T-shirt after the direct-to-video action star played a few songs with his blues band.

Via Zvezda

"I'm Russian," Seagal said, explaining that he has grandparents from St. Petersburg and Vladivostok. "That explains a lot," Zaldostanov said.

Many Twitter users noted the show's resemblance to Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl's infamous 1935 propaganda film about a Nazi rally, after state TV posted a photo of the swastika.

Грандиозное байк-шоу в Крыму! Прямая трансляция по ссылке: http://t.co/0G0s3R0yW4

Вести.ru@vesti_news

Грандиозное байк-шоу в Крыму! Прямая трансляция по ссылке: http://t.co/0G0s3R0yW4

9:17 PM - 08 Aug 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

The whole show can be viewed here.

Via vesti.ru

Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71

Contact Max Seddon at max.seddon@buzzfeed.com.

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