Putin’s grants to ‘foreign agents’ signal shift away from hard-line domestic policies

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MOSCOW — They are Russian President Vladimir Putin’s favorite motorcycle gang, but the black-clad Night Wolves may soon be struggling for cash after being snubbed in the most recent round of presidential grants, while struggling organizations labeled “foreign agents” by the Kremlin have been approved for funding.

This week’s unexpected outcome of the nationwide bidding for government rubles has sparked a number of interpretations, with some political analysts suggesting it may signal a shift in the hard-line domestic policies that have held sway in the Kremlin under Mr. Putin since Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014.

The Night Wolves, whose members have been involved in fighting in eastern Ukraine, has received around 60 million rubles — about $993,000 — in government subsidies since 2014. The group used some of the money to stage festive shows for children that depict an “evil” United States as trying — but failing — to destroy Russia.

Alexander Zaldostanov, the group’s 54-year-old leader, once said the shows had to be “really scary” to convince Russian children of the “American threat to their homeland.”

The group, reportedly the largest motorcycle club in the country, has increasingly been seen as a key recruit in Mr. Putin’s drive to restore Russian power and battle liberal Western ideas. When the feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot played an unauthorized gig in a Moscow cathedral, the Night Wolves set up guard posts at other Orthodox sites to prevent any further “hooliganism.”

This was the first time the pro-Kremlin bikers had failed to secure a presidential grant. Mr. Zaldostanov declined to comment on his gang’s failure to secure Kremlin funding, but vowed that the children’s festive shows would take place regardless.

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