The World In Which We Live

ITAR-TASS News Agency/Alamy Stock Photo/J3ND59

In St. Petersburg, Night Wolves Motorcycle Club leader Alexander Zaldostanov (front) rides his motorcycle during a ceremony marking the start of a new motorcycling season, 6 May 2017.

‘Wolves of the Russian Spring’: An Examination of the Night Wolves as a Proxy for the Russian Government

by Matthew A. Lauder

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Matthew A. Lauder, CD, BA (Hons.), MA, MPhil, is a Defence Scientist in the Intelligence, Influence and Collaboration (I2C) Section at Defence R & D Canada (Toronto), supporting Influence Activities, Information Operations and Non-Munitions Targeting capability development for the Canadian Armed Forces. Matthew’s area of expertise includes socio-cultural analysis, social complexity, influence and coercion, irregular and asymmetric warfare, and adversarial intent. He has also deployed on or supported several operations, including Operation Reassurance, Operation Podium, Operation Athena, Operation Enduring Freedom, and he served for over 13 years as a Reserve Officer in The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise’s).


Contrary to most portrayals by the mainstream media of the Night Wolves Motorcycle Club (MC) as Russia’s equivalent to the Hell’s Angels,1 the organization is not an outlaw motorcycle gang – which implies a rejection of mainstream culture, strict loyalty to the biker club rather than to the state and deep involvement in criminal enterprises. Rather, the biker image of the Night Wolves is a carefully curated façade meant to provide a semblance of rebelliousness all while the group serves as a tool of the state.2 Moreover, the Night Wolves are just one part of a vast network of non-profit organizations, military associations, and private businesses working at the behest of the Russian government.3 The Night Wolves exemplify a larger trend by the Russian government to outsource activities to non-state actors that are traditionally conducted by the state intelligence and defence entities. These outsourced activities include, but are not limited to, intelligence collection, propaganda dissemination, agitation and provocation, combat operations and tailored violence, including intimidation and targeted assassination.4


Moscow, the Kremlin, and Moscva River by night.

This article has three objectives. First, it will explore the evolution of the Night Wolves, from an anti-establishment motorcycle club to a vast patriotic network. Second, it will examine the role of the Night Wolves in support of the Kremlin’s geopolitical objectives. Third, it will explore the trend of the Russian government outsourcing of intelligence and defence activities to non-state actors, as well as discuss the implications for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) assurance operations in Eastern Europe.

Non-Linear Warfare

Before proceeding with a discussion of the Night Wolves and the broader effort by the Kremlin to outsource intelligence and defence activities, it is important to situate this examination within the overarching operational concept of Non-Linear Warfare (NLW).5 This concept provides a framework for the application of both non-military and non-state actors as key enablers of contemporary conflict. Largely credited to General Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, and to a lesser extent Vladislav Surkov,6 chief ideologue and special advisor to Vladimir Putin, NLW is designed for the contemporary operating environment (COE).7 It is also believed to be the construct Russia will likely apply in the future to gain influence over its near abroad.8

ITAR-TASS News Agency/Alamy Stock Photo/K86505

Russian President Vladimir Putin and First Deputy Defence Minister and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov (centre) attending joint Russian and Belarussian military exercises in the Leningrad Region, 18 September 2017.

Based upon the examination of Russian military operations in Crimea and East Ukraine, NLW can be divided into six (6) complementary features (see Illustration 1: Non-Linear Warfare – Features). The first is the central role and reliance upon non-state actors as the primary belligerents, which provide a local image to the conflict.9 The second feature is intentioned ambiguity, which implies the deliberate and pervasive use of obfuscation, deception, disinformation and deniability at all levels of conflict.10 The purpose of intentioned ambiguity is to create a debilitating level of uncertainty and to prevent the state-sponsor from being implicated in what otherwise appears to be an internal conflict. The third feature is the primacy of non-military measures, which generally occur at a ratio of 4:1 over military measures. Non-military measures include, but are not limited to, diplomacy, economics, natural resources, technology, and ideology, as well as other government departments (OGDs), commercial enterprises and the leveraging of formal and informal social networks, including organized crime groups and expatriate populations.11 The purpose of non-military measures is to ensure a condition of prolonged and simmering conflict that remains below the threshold of war so as not to compel an international military response. The fourth feature is that of information warfare and the requirement to shape the information environment, which includes managing both the message and the means of dissemination.12 The fifth feature is integrated functionality, which is the horizontal and vertical integration of assets, tactics, and strategies to generate effects.13 The last feature is non-sequential phasing of operations, which implies a lack of clear delineation or separation between the six (6) operational phases of NLW.14 In other words, the non-linearity in NLW speaks to the fuzzy, discontinuous, and iterative manifestation of the operational phases. As such, the NLW concept should be treated as an abstraction rather than a blueprint for the conduct of operations.


Illustration 1: Non-Linear Warfare – Features.

Click to enlarge image

Origin and Evolution of the Night Wolves

Influenced by perestroika, the Night Wolves came into being in 1983 as a group of anti-establishment rock music fans and motorcycle enthusiasts.15 In May 1989, the group formally became known as the Night Wolves MC. Characterized by an anti-establishment worldview, the Night Wolves modelled itself on US outlaw motorcycle gangs.16 During the initial years, the group provided security at rock concerts, and is believed to have operated a protection racket on behalf of an organized crime group.17

RIA Novosti/ Reuters/RTR25ELS

Vladimir Putin and Alexander Zaldostanov together at the motorcycle club in Moscow, 7 July 2009.

By the early-1990s, Alexander Zaldostanov, known as the ‘Surgeon,’ assumed the leadership of the Night Wolves.18 It was also during this period that the group went through an initial transformation, changing from a seemingly anti-establishment biker club to an organization with subtle patriotic leanings.19 In August 1991, members of the Night Wolves defended the Kremlin from an attempted coup by hardline communists. For his efforts, Zaldostanov was presented a medal by Boris Yeltsin, then President of Russia.20

In 1992, the Night Wolves opened Russia’s first rock music nightclub and a tattoo shop. Shortly thereafter, they held Russia’s first international tattoo convention and bike show, opened a motorcycle shop (Wolf Engineering), and launched a biker clothing line (Wolf Wear). Several years after it opened, the nightclub burned down. Zaldostanov purchased the property, and by 1999, opened a new Night Wolves clubhouse, along with a bike centre, concert venue, dance club, restaurants, and a hotel. Zaldostanov also rewrote the Night Wolves charter, centralizing power and giving himself full ownership over the club.21 In response, many of the original members left the Night Wolves.22

The early-2000s marked a period of spiritual transformation for the club.23 At least some of the impetus for the spiritual transformation has been attributed to Zaldostanov embracing Orthodox Christianity after he was involved in a motorcycle accident in 1999.24 However, Alexei Weitz, who joined the club in the mid-2000s and served as an official in the Right Cause, is also credited with nurturing the relationship between the Night Wolves and the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as formalising Zaldostanov’s religious worldview.25

Over the last decade, the relationship between the Night Wolves and the Russian Orthodox Church has strengthened significantly.26 For example, the Night Wolves sponsor motorcycle pilgrimages to holy sites, and Zaldostanov meets regularly with Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church and a former KGB agent,27 to discuss co-hosting patriotic events.28 Club members have also defended the church against protests.29

The relationship between the Night Wolves and the Kremlin also deepened during this period. In 2008, the club attended a rally to mark the victory of Dmitry Medvedev as President, and in 2009, Zaldostanov met with Putin at a motorcycle rally in Sevastopol. Putin also rode with the Night Wolves at the 2010 Sevastopol motorcycle rally, and publicly thanked Zaldostanov for his service to Russia at the 2011 motorcycle rally in Novorossiysk. In 2013, Putin awarded Zaldostanov the Order of Honor medal for his work on youth patriotic education and for preserving the memory of the fallen from the Great Patriotic War (The Second World War). Zaldostanov also served as a torch-bearer at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and the Night Wolves flag was flown on the Russian portion of the International Space Station.30

In addition to the political and spiritual transformations, the Night Wolves also experienced significant organizational growth over the last decade. By the mid-2000s, there were more than 40 Night Wolves chapters across Russia and Europe.31 In 2014, the club opened a chapter in Chechnya and made Ramzan Khadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Republic, an honorary chapter leader. By 2016, the Night Wolves had 51 chapters, and approximately 5000 members.32

The Night Wolves Network

Zaldostanov and the Night Wolves are just a small part of a vast patriotic network with operations across Russia and Europe, as well as emerging business interests in Asia (see Illustration 2: Night Wolves – Network Structure). This patriotic network can be divided into three general areas; that of (1) patriotic education and outreach, (2) security and training, and (3) professional affiliations. Patriotic education includes the main chapter of the Night Wolves and Bike Centre in Moscow, the 51 Night Wolves chapters across Russia and Europe, the Russian Motorcyclist Association, and various youth patriotic organizations and associated business assets.33 While some of these entities operate as private businesses, the youth organizations and the Russian Motorcyclist Association operate as non-profit organizations. Security and training includes Wolf Holdings, which is separated into several departments (i.e., Special Training, Security, Legal, Technical Support, Economic Security, Development and Remote Security). Professional affiliations include partnerships with the International Union of Paratroopers and the Central Council of Special Forces.


Illustration 2: Night Wolves - Network Structure [not exhaustive].

Click to enlarge image

Ownership of the Night Wolves is extremely difficult to determine, largely due to convoluted and regularly changing organizational names and ownership. For example, in 2011, Zaldostanov was a founder and a partial owner (40%) of Wolf 77 Ltd, which owns 100% of its parent company, Wolf International Holding Security Structures (Wolf Holdings). Wolf Holdings was later bought by Gennady Nikulov34 and Vyacheslav Stegalov,35 who own 80% and 20% respectively.36 Nikulov also owns or has owned at least three individual Night Wolves chapters, and he currently serves as president of Wolf Holdings, as well as being a board member of the International Union of Paratroopers. While Zaldostanov no longer owns Wolf Holdings, the main office is co-located with the Night Wolves main chapter in Moscow. Other components of Wolf Holdings appear to operate as franchises, with various well-connected individuals owning varying percentages of the businesses. In addition, Zaldostanov owns or serves as president of several related commercial entities and non-profit organizations associated with the Night Wolves. For example, it is believed that Zaldostanov owns 100% of the Bike Centre in Moscow, and serves as president of the Night Wolves non-profit youth education organizations. In addition, the non-profit organizations own various commercial entities, such as restaurants and nightclubs, which generate significant revenues. In 2007, the nightclubs generated approximately $2.4 (US) million.37

Support to the Russian Government

The Night Wolves played a small but important role in the Russian military operation to annex Crimea. Prior to Zaldostanov’s arrival in Simferopol on 28 February 2014, members of Sevastopol Night Wolves chapter were supporting the Russian military, possibly as early as 20 February 2014.38 Activities during this period included collecting intelligence, distributing propaganda, organizing protests and self-defence units, and coordinating with Russian Special Operations Forces.39 When the vanguard of the Russian military arrived in the early hours of 27 February 2014, the Night Wolves became much more involved in the military operation by coordinating road-blocks and targeting local officials for intimidation.40 By early March, Night Wolves conducted joint operations with Russian Spetsnaz units. For example, members of the Night Wolves, with support from the Russian military, conducted a raid on a Ukrainian naval facility. The Night Wolves also secured a natural gas facility and captured a senior officer of the Ukrainian State Border Service. It is important to note that the Night Wolves were one of only two non-state actors to be permitted by the Russian military to conduct armed operations.41 It was believed that other groups, including the Cossack militias, lacked the appropriate military training or were too aggressive to be employed in armed operations, which demanded no casualties or minimal casualties.42 As such, most self-defence units were largely tasked with guarding buildings, protecting pro-Russian protestors or maintaining vehicle checkpoints. Upon completion of the military operation, at least 11 members of the Night Wolves, including Zaldostanov, were awarded the campaign medal “For the Return of Crimea.”43

ITAR-TASS News Agency/Alamy Stock Photo/E9N1KE

Members of the Night Wolves attending a burial service for Soviet soldiers in Crimea, 30 October 2014.

The Night Wolves involvement in Crimea did not end with the annexation. In June 2014, the City of Bakhscisarai awarded a contract to the Night Wolves for the provision of municipal security services and youth patriotic education. Additional discussions were held with representatives from Wolf Holdings about the implementation of a safe-city program. By late- 2015, the Night Wolves also formed a rapid response team with local police, and patrolled areas of Sevastopol.44

In East Ukraine, the Luhansk chapter of the Night Wolves was one of the first non-state actors to join the nascent pro-Russian militias, which were largely comprised of local volunteers and a handful of Russian operatives.45 As the Ukrainian military advanced on Luhansk in the summer of 2014, the Night Wolves assisted pro-Russian militias with blockading the city.46 Later in the summer of 2014, the Night Wolves joined with other pro-Russian militia groups, backed by the Russian military, and laid siege to the Luhansk Airport.47 The Night Wolves also provided travel documents to and facilitated the transport of several high-ranking Ukrainian government members to Russia. Utilising its extensive social network, the Night Wolves also played a key role in recruiting fighters to serve with pro-Russian militias.48 By 2015, approximately 40 members of the Night Wolves had fought with pro-Russian militia groups in East Ukraine, and at least three members were killed in combat.49

Since the establishment of relatively static frontlines, the Night Wolves have served as a special police squad. According to Vitaly Kishkinov, leader of the Luhansk chapter, the Night Wolves are now considered “…part of the [Luhansk People’s Republic] Ministry of Internal Affairs,” and are tasked with guarding critical infrastructure and patrolling the community to ensure law and order.50 In 2017, the Americans added Wolf Holdings, Gennady Nikulov, and the Bike Center to the economic sanctions list for participation in or support to hostilities in Ukraine.

Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters/RTR3G23G

Armed men believed to be Russian servicemen outside a Ukrainian military base in the village of Perevalnoye, near Simferopol, 5 March 2014.

Although paramilitary activities are likely the most controversial form of support, the Night Wolves provide a range of other services to the Russian government. In 2015, for example, they joined forces with like-minded politicians and veterans and started the anti-Maidan movement.51 Primarily led by Zaldostanov, the purpose of the anti-Maidan movement is to protect the Russian government from a colour-revolution, largely through the suppression of dissenting views.52 At a February 2015 anti-Maidan protest, Zaldostanov, surrounded by members of the Night Wolves, unfurled a large banner that read, “The Wolves of the Russian Spring.” It was an unsophisticated attempt to mock both the Euromaidan movement and the Arab Spring, which are regarded as US foreign interventions under the guise of democratization. As noted by Dr. Mark Galeotti, an expert and prolific writer on transnational crime and Russian security affairs, the Night Wolves are a “…case study in the Kremlin’s strategy of adopting and taming potentially hostile groups and using them precisely as tools of control – counter-counterculture, as it were.”53

Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters/RTX1C2Y6

Members of the Night Wolves pose on top a Red Army tank at the German-Russian museum in Berlin while commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, 8 May 1945.

The Night Wolves also organize two other complementary activities in support of the Russian government. The first is that of motorcycle rallies. While several different motorcycle rallies are coordinated by the Night Wolves each year, the most controversial is the Victory Ride to Berlin, which commemorates the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. Conducted annually since 2015, the ride starts in Moscow in late-April and finishes at the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin every 9 May. However, several countries see the ride as a deliberate provocation, and they have attempted to block the ride.54 For example, Poland banned the Night Wolves from entering the country during the 2016 ride. In response, the Kremlin summoned the Polish ambassador and informed her that the ban was considered a hostile act.55 Poland, however, refused to acquiesce, and the Night Wolves were forced to bypass the country. Further, in 2017, the Night Wolves were banned from entering Georgia, Ukraine, and Poland.

Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters/RTX1AH2Q

Members of the Night Wolves look on after being denied entry into Poland at a border crossing near Brest, 27 April 2015. They were part of a group heading to Berlin to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

The second activity is that of motorcycle shows, which are used as a platform for youth patriotic education. Although varying in form, the shows tend to highlight themes such as the requirement for patriotic duty, the evils of US global hegemony, and the moral and spiritual decay of the West.56 One of the most grandiose bike shows took place in Sevastopol in August 2015.57 Entitled, “The Forge of Victory,” the event was broadcast live on Russian TV. The bike show included dozens of actors and thousands of bikers who re-enacted the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, portraying pro-Russian militias as freedom fighters, and the Kiev government as a junta under the control of the West.58

Similar shows are held at the Night Wolves facility in Moscow as part of a state-sponsored annual Children’s Christmas festival. From 2013 through 2015, the Night Wolves received approximately $130,000 (US) a year from the Russian government to stage the festival.59 At one event, Putin told the crowd that the Night Wolves do not just ride motorcycles, they “…perform military-patriotic work. Historical memory is the best cement that binds people of different nationalities and religions into one nation, in one powerful country – Russia.”60

As an extension of the youth-focused motorcycle shows, the Night Wolves are expanding their Moscow facility to include a dedicated youth patriotic education centre. In addition, the club received more than $280,000 (US) to help fund the construction of a patriotic sports park in Sevastopol.61 The Night Wolves also plan to build five similar facilities in major urban centres across Russia.62 In total, theirs and associated organizations received approximately $1 million (US) in government grants in between 2013 and 2014.63

Outsourcing: Trends and Implications

Four trends serve to illustrate the breadth of the outsourcing effort by the Kremlin. The first trend is that of outsourcing state propaganda activities. Operating from a nondescript office in St. Petersburg, the Internet Research Agency came to prominence in 2014, earning the moniker the ‘Russian Troll Farm.’64 Sponsored by the Russian government, the Internet Research Agency is reported to have had a monthly budget of over $500,000 (US), and employed approximately 400 hundred people to troll and post comments on social media sites and online news media.65 However, the Internet Research Agency is not limited to propagandizing via social media. In late-2014, the agency was linked to at least one well-publicized pro-Russian and pro-Syrian art exhibit in New York City.66 More recently, the Internet Research Agency has rebranded itself as an online news media conglomerate, and it operates under the name of FAN (Federal News Agency).67

The second trend is the outsourcing of offensive cyber operations to cyber-criminals and hacker groups.68 While Russian intelligence services are increasing in-house offensive cyber capabilities, Mark Galeotti notes that the Kremlin “…still depends, to a considerable extent, on recruiting cybercriminals, or simply calling on them from time to time, in return for their continued freedom.”69 Exemplifying this approach is that of Evgeniy Bogachev.70 Indicted in the US, Bogachev originally designed malware that siphoned millions of dollars from bank accounts. However, at the behest of Russian intelligence services, Bogachev modified his malware to collect information from the computer networks of US and allied defence and intelligence agencies, specifically retrieving information related to the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.71 Several other notable examples of cyber outsourcing exist, including Advanced Persistent Threats (APT) 28 and 29, more commonly known as Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear, respectively. While these hacker groups are considered to be under the direction of Russian intelligence services, they are believed to be informal actors and, quite possibly, a cyber technology firm.72 Moreover, non-state actors, including Nashi and a St. Petersburg-based crime group known as the Russian Business Network, played a key role in execution of cyber-attacks on Estonia in 2007, and during the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008. Lastly, CyberBerkut, a hacker-group believed to be under the direction of the Russian intelligence services, conducted most of the cyber-attacks that facilitated the Russian military operation to annex Crimea, as well as the invasion of East Ukraine.73

The third trend is the outsourcing of activities in support of military operations to private military corporations (PMCs).74 While there are at least ten Russian-owned PMCs currently in operation, Wagner Group is particularly noteworthy and it exemplifies this outsourcing trend.75 Registered in 2014, Wagner Group is led by retired Lieutenant Colonel Dmitry Utkin, who previously served in the 2nd Spetsnaz Brigade. Wagner Group has been operating in Syria since 2015 and its employees are reported to have participated alongside the Syrian military in the liberation of Palmyra.76 In addition, the group deployed to East Ukraine in direct support of the Russian military. Referred to as “the Cleaners,” members of Wagner Group were tasked with collecting intelligence, conducting subversion, and eliminating internal issues with the pro-Russian militia command structure.77 According to media reports, this effort involved arresting or assassinating key leaders of the pro-Russian militias.78 In 2017, the US added Utkin and Wagner Group to the economic sanctions list for participation or support to hostilities in Ukraine.79

DOMINIQUE DERDA/AFP/Getty Images/848758160

Russian soldiers standing guard in a central street in Syria’s eastern city of Deir Ezzor, 15 September 2017.

The fourth trend is the outsourcing of tailored violence,80 as well as intelligence collection, logistical support to military operations and “black cash” fund raising to organized crime groups.81 For example, in 2014, a Federal Security Service (FSB) snatch team slipped across the border and abducted an officer of the Estonian Security Police. The purpose of the abduction was to impede an investigation by Estonian authorities into an illegal cigarette trafficking operation conducted by a Russian organized crime group.82 In short, a portion of the profits from the trafficking operation were redirected back to the FSB, which then used the money to fund active measures and clandestine operations.83 Utilizing their trafficking and smuggling networks and black-market connections, Russian organized crime groups have also provided logistical support to combat operations in Ukraine, mostly the transport of illegal weapons.84 Moreover, at least 12 assassinations have taken place in Turkey of former Chechen resistance fighters and political activists. Rather than being conducted by Russian intelligence services, it is believed the assassinations were outsourced to a Russian crime group.85 Several other people, including citizens of Russia and Western countries, are believed to have been killed by Russian organized crime groups at the behest of the Russian government.86

While there are numerous reasons for outsourcing, such as cost effectiveness and expendability of assets, the principal reasons are twofold. First, it allows the Kremlin access to people with highly specialized and unique skills, which are either underdeveloped, or of limited quantity within government. Second, it supports the intentioned ambiguity feature of Non-Linear Warfare.

Implications for the CAF and NATO

The question remains: What does this mean for the CAF and NATO? Based upon an examination of the Night Wolves, as well as an analysis of the four outsourcing trends, the following implications have been identified:

  1. The Russian government will continue to utilize non-state actors to conduct the full range of informational, intelligence, logistics, and combat activities in support of NLW. Efforts by non-state actors will focus on undermining the legitimacy and credibility of the political institutions of the targeted country. The full-breadth of informational attacks should be expected, with a focus on propaganda activities supported by tailored and highly targeted offensive cyber operations;
  2. The Night Wolves will continue to play a supporting role in the execution of future NLW activities, especially to shape the information environment and help to establish the covert origins of conflict;87
  3. The Night Wolves possess an extended network of assets across Europe, which includes chapters and martial arts and paramilitary training facilities.88 It should be expected that this network will be leveraged by the FSB for intelligence collection, source identification, talent spotting, and recruitment. It is quite possible that this network will be used against CAF and NATO personnel when deployed in support of reassurance operations. It should also be expected that the Night Wolves will be used to recruit local agents for the purposes of political agitation;89 and,
  4. As a key part of Russia’s propaganda campaign aimed at its near abroad, the Night Wolves will likely seek out and leverage Russian expatriate populations in targeted countries to support controversial public events. These events will be used to create and amplify political and social wedge issues, and to gain widespread media attention.90 In an effort to justify the events, the Night Wolves will present themselves as defenders of the memory of victory over Nazi Germany.

RIA Novosti/Reuters/RTX1C71R

The leader of the Night Wolves, Alexander Zaldostanov, and a veteran photographed while waiting for the Victory Day parade in Red Square, Moscow, 9 May 2015.


Contrary to mainstream media portrayals, the Night Wolves are not the Russian equivalent of the Hell’s Angels. Rather, the Night Wolves is a large network of patriotic businesses, non-profit organizations, and professional associations. Although originally an anti-establishment movement, the Night Wolves have gone through a series of transformative phases. In the early-1990s, they first demonstrated their patriotic inclinations when members defended the Kremlin from an attempted coup by hardline communists. In the 2000s, the relationship between the Night Wolves and the Russian government, as well as the Russian Orthodox Church deepened, and by 2010, the group was well on its way to being considered an apparatus of the state. On several occasions, Putin has publicly acknowledged the group’s patriotic activities, including support of military operations in Crimea and East Ukraine.

The Night Wolves, however, exemplify a broad trend by the Kremlin to outsource activities traditionally conducted by state intelligence and defence services. These activities include but are not limited to intelligence collection, propaganda dissemination, offensive cyber operations, political agitation and provocation, combat operations, and tailored violence. While there are numerous reasons for the Kremlin to outsource, such as cost effectiveness and expendability of assets when the task is completed, the principal reasons are twofold. First, it allows the Kremlin access to people with highly specialized skills, which are either underdeveloped or of limited quantity within the government. Second, it provides for intentioned ambiguity.

There are a number of implications that need to be considered by the CAF and NATO, in particular, as they relate to conduct of reassurance operations in Eastern Europe. First, the Russian government will continue to make extensive use of non-state actors to perform informational, intelligence, logistics, and combat activities. Efforts by non-state assets will focus upon undermining the legitimacy and credibility of the political institutions of target countries. Second, it should be expected that the extensive network managed by the Night Wolves will be leveraged by the FSB for intelligence collection, including source identification, talent spotting and recruitment. These assets may be used against CAF and NATO personnel. It should also be expected that the Night Wolves will be used by Russian intelligence services to recruit local agents for the purposes of political agitation and fomenting discontent. Lastly, the Night Wolves will likely seek out and leverage Russian expatriate populations in targeted countries to support provocative public events to create and amplify political and social wedge issues. As such, the CAF and NATO should identify and develop potential counter-measures to Russian aggression, especially activities conducted by non-state actors.


  1. Damon Tabor, “Putin’s Angels: Inside Russia’s Most Infamous Motorcycle Club,” in Rolling Stone (8 October 2015), accessed 20 February 2016, at:; and Peter Pomerantsev, “Forms of Delirium,” in London Review of Books (10 October 2013), accessed 1 May 2017, at:; Harriet Salem, “Crimea’s Putin supporters prepare to welcome possible Russian advance,” in The Guardian (1 March 2014), accessed 1 May 2017, at:
  2. Yekaterina Sinelschikova, “Crimean land dispute: Who are Russia’s Night Wolves and what do they stand for?” in Russian Beyond The Headlines (3 June 2015), accessed 01 May 2017, at:
    ; and Mark Galeotti, “An Unusual Friendship: Bikers and the Kremlin (Op-Ed),” in The Moscow Times (19 May 2015), accessed 15 December 2016, at:
  3. Tabor, 2015.
  4. Marcel H. van Herpen, Putin’s Propaganda Machine: Soft Power and Russian Foreign Policy (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016); and Mark Galeotti, CRIMINTERN: How the Kremlin uses Russia’s Criminal Networks in Europe, Policy Brief (London: European Council on Foreign Relations, April 2017).
  5. NLW is also referred to as the Gerasimov Doctrine, Hybrid Warfare and New Generation Warfare. Matthew Lauder, Iron fist in a velvet glove: A brief examination of the Russian military operation to annex Crimea in 2014, DRDC-RDDC-2016-L414 (Toronto: Defence Research and Development Canada, 30 November 2016), pp. 2-4; and Can Kasapoglu, Russia’s Renewed Military Thinking: Non-Linear Warfare and Reflexive Control, Research Paper No. 121 (Rome: NATO Defence College, 25 November 2015), pp. 8-9; and Timothy Thomas, “Russia’s Military Strategy and Ukraine: Indirect, Asymmetric – and Putin-Led,” in Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 28 (2015), pp. 445-461, accessed 1 February 2016, at’s-Russia/Russia%E2%80%99s%20Military%20Strategy%20and%20Ukraine%20article%20
    slavic%20mil%20studies.pdf and currently accessible at
  6. Vladislav Surkov is the founder of Nashi, which is a patriotic youth movement created in the early-2000s. US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), “Little Green Men”: a primer of Modern Russian Unconventional Warfare, Ukraine 2013-2014 (Fort Bragg: United States Special Operations Command, June 2015), p. 36.
  7. Lauder, 2016.
  8. Ibid.
  9. A.J.C. Selhorst, “Russia’s Perception Warfare: The development of Gerasimov’s doctrine in Estonia and Georgia and its application in Ukraine,” in Militaire Spectator (22 April 2016), accessed 15 October 2016, at; USASOC, 2015.
  10. Lauder, 2016.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Gerasimov, 2013.
  13. Selhorst, 2016.
  14. The six operational phases of Russian NLW are: (1) Covert origins, (2) Escalations, (3) Start of conflict activities, (4) Crisis, (5) Resolution, and (6) Restoration of peace. Gerasimov, 2013.
  15. Tabor, 2015.
  16. Ibid
  17. Andrew Kozenko, “Беспечный ездок Андрей Козенко рассказывает историю Хирурга и Ночных волков,” in Meduza (4 June 2015), accessed 01 December 2015, at
  18. Zaldostanov is leader of the Night Wolves, owner of the Night Wolves chapter in Moscow, and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Bike Centre. He also serves as president of several non-profit organizations directly affiliated with the Night Wolves, including the Russian Bikers Association. In his youth, Zaldostanov was involved in the Pioneer movement and attended Young Pioneer’s. By his 20s, Zaldostanov got involved in anti-establishment movements. In 1985, he moved to West Berlin and worked as a bouncer at The Sexton, a punk rock club, and developed a relationship with the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels. In the late-1980s, Zaldostanov returned to Moscow and assumed the leadership of the Night Wolves along with several affiliated companies, including Wolf Wear and Wolf Engineering. In 2014, Zaldostanov and the Night Wolves were added to the US sanctions list for his participation in Russian military operations in Ukraine. Zaldostanov was added to economic sanctions list by Canada in 2015. In a 2015 dispute with Sevastopol legislative assembly over land sold to the Night Wolves at a significantly reduced rate (a 99.9% discount off the assessed value), Zaldostanov challenged the politician blocking the deal to a duel. The politician politely refused Zaldostanov’s offer and urged the Night Wolves to participate in a transparent bidding process.
  19. Pomerantsev, 2014.
  20. Tabor, 2015.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Natalia Telegina, “‘Волчий’ бизнес: как дружба с Путиным помогает байкерам,” in Republic (22 May 2014), accessed, 15 November 2014, at
  23. Pomerantsev, 2013.
  24. Tabor, 2015.
  25. Pomerantsev, 2013.
  26. Ibid.
  27. KGB (Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti) was the state security agency of the Soviet Union. It was dissolved in 1991, and replaced by the FSB (Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii), which is responsible for internal security, and the SVR (Sluzhba vneshney razvedki), which is responsible for foreign intelligence. David Satter, “Putin Runs the Russian State – And the Russian Church Too,” in Forbes (20 February 2009), accessed 5 July 2017, at
  28. Evan Dyer, “Alexander Zaldostanov, Russian biker, makes Canada’s sanctions list,” in CBC News (19 February 2015), accessed 1 May 2016, at; and Will Wright, “The Rise of Russia’s Night Wolves,” in Russia! (14 July 2015), accessed 10 September 2015, at; Telegina, 2014.
  29. Kozenko, 2015.
  30. Dyer, 2015; Matthew Bodner, “Night Wolves Biker Gang Flag Flown in Russian Segment of Space Station,” in The Moscow Times (16 October 2015), accessed 5 July 2017, at
  31. Wright, 2015.
  32. Marc Bennetts, “Night Wolves biker gang a key element in Vladimir Putin’s political firewall,” in The Washington Times (15 June 2015), accessed 5 July 2017, at
  33. Wright, 2015.
  34. A former paratrooper, Gennady Nikulov is the president of Wolf Holdings, a majority owner of Wolf 77 Ltd and a part owner of Dolgoprudnyi chapter of the Night Wolves. Nikulov also owned the Tver Region chapter of the Night Wolves. Nikulov also owns several private security companies under Wolf Holdings, including Wolf Sevastopol, Wolf Airborne, Wolf 50 and Wolf 1423. He is also part owner of the law office under Wolf Holdings. Nikulov also serves as the vice president of the self-defence forces in Sevastopol is a board member of the International Union of Russian Paratroopers.
  35. Vyacheslav Stegalov is CEO and part-owner of Wolf 77 Ltd. Stegalov is also part-owner and a leader of the Dolgoprudnyi chapter of the Night Wolves. Stegalov also serves as the deputy ataman of the Central Cossack Army.
  36. Wojciech Mucha, “Night Wolves. Russian killing machine factory,” in Euromaidan Press (25 April 2015), accessed 05 July 2017, at
  37. Telegina, 2014.
  38. Sinelschikova, 2015.
  39. Lauder, 2016.
  40. Tabor, 2015; Salem, 2014
  41. Jack Losh, “Putin’s Angels: the bikers battling for Russia in Ukraine,” in The Guardian (29 February 2016), accessed 5 July 2017, at
  42. Lauder, 2016
  43. Irene Chalupa, “Direct Translation: Meet the Ex-Convicts, Bullies, and Armed Bikers Who Helped Seize Crimea,” in Atlantic Council (19 June 2014), accessed 05 July 2017, at
  44. Staff Writer, “Ночные волки” будут патрулировать села Севастополя, in TASS (27 November 2015), accessed 1 December 2016, at
  45. Telegina, 2014.
  46. Tabor, 2015
  47. Ibid.
  48. Ibid.
  49. Three members killed in combat in Eastern Ukraine include: Sergei Koptex, and two men operating under the nom-de-guerre of ‘Bison’ and ‘Vampire’ respectively. (Tabor, 2015).
  50. Tabor, 2015.
  51. Dyer, 2015; Wright, 2015.
  52. Bennetts, 2015.
  53. Galeotti, 2015.
  54. Sinelschikova, 2015.
  55. Masha Gessen, “Putin and the Night Wolves of Poland,” in The New York Times (10 May 2016), accessed 05 July 2017, at
  56. Bennetts, 2015; Tabor, 2015.
  57. A similarly grandiose event took place in Sevastopol in 2014, which featured dancers dressed in black and carrying torches formed a swastika and danced as symbols representing the US dangled overhead (see Kates, 2014; Wright, 2015; and Seddon, 2014).
  58. Tabor, 2015.
  59. Sinelschikova, 2015.
  60. Dyer, 2015.
  61. Jennifer Monaghan, “Pro-Putin Bikers Get 99.9% Rent Discount for ‘Patriotic’ Sports Zone,” in The Moscow Times (14 May 2015), accessed 25 August 2016, at
  62. Nadezhda Federova, “’Ночные волки’ построят центр патриотического воспитания в Петербург,” in DP (18 November 2015), accessed 5 July 2017, at
  63. Shane Dixon Kavanaugh, “Putin’s Biker Gang Pockets More Than $1 Million From Russia’s Coffers,” in Vocativ (06 May 2015), accessed 5 July 2017, at
  64. Olga Khazan, “Russia’s Online-Comment Propaganda Army,” in The Atlantic (9 October 2013), accessed 1 April 2014, at; and Adrian Chen, “The Agency,” in The New York Times Magazine (02 June 2015), accessed 01 July 2017, at
  65. Chen, 2015; and Bill Gertz, “DIA Reveals New Details in Russian Information Warfare,” in The Washington Free Beacon (7 July 2017), accessed 8 July 2017, at
  66. The art exhibit was entitled, Material Evidence. Syria. Ukraine. Andy Crush, “Emails Link Kremlin Troll Farm to Bizarre New York Photography Exhibit,” in Gawker (20 August 2015), accessed 5 July 2017, at
  67. Alexey Kovalev, “Russia’s Infamous ‘Troll Factory’ Is Now Posing as a Media Empire,” in The Moscow Times (24 March 2017), accessed 1 April 2017, at
  68. Gertz, 2015.
  69. Galeotti, 2015.
  70. Michael Schwirtz & Joseph Goldstein, “Russian Espionage Piggybacks on a Cybercriminal’s Hacking,” in The New York Times (12 March 2017), accessed 5 July 2017, at
  71. Ibid.
  72. Roland Oliphant, “Who are Russia’s cyber-warriors and what should the West do about them?” in The Telegraph (16 December 2016), accessed 6 May 2017, at
  73. Jeff Stone, “Meet CyberBerkut, The Pro-Russian Hackers Waging Anonymous-Style Cyberwarfare Against Ukraine,” in International Business Times (17 December 2015), accessed 6 May 2017, at
  74. Aleksandr Gostev & Robert Coalson, “Russia’s Paramilitary Mercenaries Emerge From The Shadows,” in Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (16 December 2016), accessed 6 May 2017, at; and Niklas Eklund, “Russian Private Military Companies – Redwater?” in Eurasia Daily Monitor (22 March 2017), accessed 5 July 2017, at
  75. Staff Writer, “In the battle in Donbass took part 6 private military companies of the Russian Federation – volunteers,” in Front News (7 June 2017), accessed 6 July 2017, at
  76. Gostev & Coalson, 2016.
  77. Eklund, 2017.
  78. Ibid.
  79. US Department of the Treasury, 2017.
  80. For the purposes of this paper, tailored violence can be defined as a clandestine or covert activity, using extreme forms of violence, to restrain, limit or eliminate dissent of a target or target audience.
  81. Galeotti, 2017.
  82. Ibid.
  83. Ibid.
  84. Tom Porter, “Gangs of Russia: Ruthless mafia networks extending their influence,” in International Business Times (15 April 2015), accessed 7 July 2017, at; and Anthony B. Seaboyer and Pierre Jolicoeur, A Brief Overview of pro-Russian Threat Networks Operating in Ukraine, Contractor Report (Toronto: Defence Research and Development Canada, May 2016).
  85. Staff Writer, “Have Russian hitmen been killing with impunity in Turkey?” in BBC (13 December 2016), accessed 7 July 2017, in
  86. Peter C. Oleson, Stalin’s Disciple: Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Newest “Wet Affairs,” (Virginia: Journal of US Intelligence Studies, Fall 2016); and Andrew Osborn, “Banker who fought Russian mafia is killed,” in The Independent (14 September 2006), accessed 07 July 2017, at
  87. Alexander Chursin, “Propaganda, misinformation and ‘Night Wolves,’” in Novaya Gazeta (6 July 2016), accessed 7 July 2017, at
  88. Andrew Rettman, “Fight club” Russian spies seek EU recruits,” in EU Observer (23 May 2017), accessed 7 July 2017, at
  89. Staff Writer, “Montenegro Coup Suspect Linked to Russian-backed ‘Ultranationalist” Organization,” in Bellingcat (25 April 2017), accessed 6 July 2017, at
  90. Rick Lyman, “Planned Motorcycle Rally by the Night Wolves, a Putin Ally, Has Poland on Edge,” in The New York Times (15 April 2015), accessed 7 July 2017, at