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Night Wolves: The hairy bikers Russian President Vladimir Putin calls his brothers

By ITV News Diplomatic Correspondent John Ray

There haven't been too many times in my life when I can say without much fear of contradiction that I am the envy of the Vladimir Putin.

But sitting on the back of a colossal motorbike as the engine revs and roars I reckon the President of Russia would for a moment swap places with me.

I am riding with the gang of hairy bikers Putin call his brothers and who have become outriders for his fiercely patriotic vision of a nation made great again.

Leader of the Wolves Alexander Zaldostanov. Credit: ITV News

They're known as the Night Wolves, and as evening falls I have been invited to their lair - a dark and forbidding place on the outskirts of Moscow where the bikes are loud and the Russian heavy metal music louder still.

I am for a rare meeting with the leader of the pack. Alexander Zaldostanov does not disappoint. He is a leather clad mountain of a man who in the fading light resembles a latter day tattooed Rasputin lookalike of the road.

The video shows the leader of the Wolves talking about his meeting with Putin.

But there the cliches end and the surprises begin. Let's start with his menacing nick-name - Alexander is known to his followers as `The Surgeon.'

There's small scar on his right cheek. I wonder whether it's the result of a run in with a rival gang.

But I needn't have worried.

"The nickname? It's because I am a surgeon, a professional surgeon," he corrects me in heavily accented English.

"I trained in dental reconstruction.''

And it's true, he attended one of Moscow's leading medical colleges. But that was before a film changed his life.

Mad Max - the cult movie of motorcycles and mayhem with Mel Gibson as an avenging force in a post apocalypse world without law or order.

''The film is kind of about Russia,'' he says.

"The country is ruined and we are looking at its fragments. "We feel pain because we want to glue them back together. It's impossible to survive separately.''

On Assignment got rare access inside the Night Wolves headquarters Credit: ITV News

Alexander has spent half a life time transforming the Night Wolves headquarters - part bikers' bar, part junk-yard - into something Mel Gibson himself might recognise as Mad Max city.

Here, we are surrounded by all manner of strange mechanical contraptions.

A car with a bonnet fashioned into the form of a wolf's head, fangs bared.

And dozens of motorbikes - hand built to resemble the fantasy machines from the movie; one with headlights that shine through a serpent's head.

Alexander is evidently very proud.

"I never thought we would be able to create Mad Max City here in today's Russia," he tells me. "But it’s as real now as the re-union of Russia and Crimea.'' He should know.

At a show in 2011, Putin rode in with the Wolves. Credit: ITV News

At the start of the year, Alexander and the Night Wolves showed up in Sebastopol, city of his birth, having driven though Ukraine, officially to deliver aid to pro-Russian rebels.

But it was also a moral boosting propaganda coup for Moscow as it sought to rest control of the region from Kiev.

For several years now, the spectacular bike shows the Wolves mount in Russia have been vivid, flag waving exercises in Russian soft power.

They are about far more than motorbikes. The shows have featured recreations of battles from the second war, a naval choir, and blazing symbols of the old Soviet Union.

At a show in 2011, Putin rode in with the Wolves (though he played safe on a three wheeler) and praised the biker's patriotism.

Not every Russian sees history though the Wolves eyes. Credit: ITV News

It was vital, the President said, to help forge 'one unified and indivisible Russian nation.'' Alexander and his Night Wolves have travelled a long road since their formation in the last days of Soviet Russia.

Back in the late eighties they were rebels who raised a collective oily fist to the Kremlin. "You know I was against the ideas of Communism,'' says Alexander, before explaining his change of heart.

"In the old country there were more pluses than in today's Russia. It had none of the lies and hypocrisy of modern times."

Clearly the misses the old Soviet Union, not for the straightjacket of Communism, but for the lost glories of Russian prestige and power on the world stage. And in Putin, he sees a man who can restore at least some of that.

I believe that what happened to my country is a flagrant injustice. A people who were united were artificially divided

I was born in Ukraine, spent my childhood in Sebastopol and I live in Moscow.

For me this is one country, and what ever others say, the Ukraine is part of the Russian world.

– Alexander `The Surgeon'

Not every Russian sees history though the Wolves eyes, of course. In the end, it might be that the world of Mad Max Moscow is just as fantastic - just as unreal - as the film that inspired it. But don’t dare tell Alexander. Or his pal, the President.

Watch On Assignment on ITV at 10.35pm tonight