BELGRADE, Serbia – Members of a Russian motorcycle club known for its allegiance to President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday they are planning a tour linking Russia and Kosovo, a tense ex-Serbian province that declared independence in 2008.
The Night Wolves bikers spoke at the end of a trip to Serbia and a Serb mini-state in Bosnia that they said was designed to promote common Slavic roots of Russian and Serbian nations.
The visit has coincided with a mounting Russian bid to maintain influence in the Balkans, particularly in Serbia, and a spike in tensions with Kosovo, whose statehood Belgrade doesn't recognize.
The Night Wolves have been blacklisted by the West for supporting Putin's policies in Ukraine, including the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. The group has strong ties to Putin, who has been shown riding with the club.
Yevgeny Strogov, one of the bikers, told a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia's capital, that the group wishes to plan a route between Kosovo Polje in Kosovo and the Kulikovo field in Russia, both sites of historic 14th-century battles.
"Technically it is a very complicated route," Strogov said through an interpreter. "It takes serious logistics and many other things, but it is our desire to show our common roots and history."
He gave no other details or a possible date for the tour that would be certain to spark controversy. Russia supports Serbia's claim on Kosovo, while the U.S. and its allies have recognized the statehood of the predominantly ethnic Albanian region.
In the latest incident, Kosovo police on Monday arrested and expelled a senior Serbian government official saying he entered the country illegally. In response, Kosovo Serbs walked out of the Kosovo government.
The incident triggered calls by Serb ultranationalists for ditching plans to join the European Union and forge an alliance with Russia.
Many Serbs consider Kosovo the nation's cradle. Serbia has close ties with Moscow, though it formally seeks EU membership.
"We are helping Russian and Serbian people get to know each other's culture, traditions and history," Strogov said.