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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nashi Targets Perm's Governor

About 400 members of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi converged on Perm last week to stage a protest against the governor, Oleg Chirkunov, for allowing a member of a far-right group to speak at a youth forum.

Political observers, however, said the protest had less to do with fighting fascism than with influencing next month's Perm mayoral elections, in which a Nashi-backed candidate is running against the governor's candidate.

The Nashi protesters gathered Thursday morning in front of the Perm legislature, waiving signs with Chirkunov portrayed as Hitler and calling for "fascists" to be "kept away from politics." They demanded that the governor apologize to veterans who had fought against the Nazis in World War II or resign.

The protest was organized after the governor, who attended the youth forum in Perm on Feb. 3, allowed a member of the People's National Party to speak, Nashi spokesman Robert Shlegel said Friday. "We gave the governor three days to publicly apologize to the World War II veterans of Perm and other Russian citizens, but he didn't. So we gathered and went to Perm," Shlegel said.

The Nashi activists traveled from Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Tver, Voronezh and Yaroslavl.

The protest ended after the governor posted a statement on the region's web site saying that "in the Perm region there will never be space for organizations and movements that call for race and national hate.

"I'm truly sorry if what has happened has offended the feelings of the deeply respected veterans," the statement said.

After learning that the statement had been posted, Nashi ended its protest, which had lasted about four hours.

At the forum, the People's National Party member, who also identified himself as a member of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, told the governor that the group had decided to turn to legal methods of waging its political battles, finding illegal methods ineffective, Novaya Gazeta reported on Thursday from Perm.

Nikolai Petrov, a regional analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, said the Nashi protest should be seen in light of the March 12 mayoral election.

"We should not underestimate the next mayoral election, in which a candidate close to the governor is running against another who is close to Nashi," Petrov said.

Acting Perm Mayor Igor Shubin, who has the governor's support, is running against Vladimir Plotnikov, the head of the Perm Patrioty Prikamya, a group of "patriots" from a region on the Kama River. The movement has close links to Nashi, and last May, when Nashi organized demonstrations all over the country, Patrioty Prikamya organized the demonstration in Perm.

Petrov said Thursday's protest was also intended to discredit the Union of Right Forces, whose chairman, Nikita Belykh, was at the youth forum. One of the Nashi signs read: "Chirkunov, Belykh -- a fascist group." Belykh is a deputy governor of Perm.

Alexei Titkov, a regional expert with the Institute of Regional Studies, said Nashi had demonstrated against Chirkunov because, even though he was nominated for the post by President Vladimir Putin, he was one of the few governors who was not a member of United Russia.

The Perm legislature confirmed Chirkunov as governor in October 2005. He had served as acting governor since March 2004, when former Governor Yury Trutnev was made natural resources minister. The promotion was seen as a reward for Trutnev's efforts to merge Perm with the neighboring Komi-Permyatsky autonomous district.

Chirkunov, a former deputy chairman of the Federation Council's Budget Committee, was also confirmed in October by the Komi-Permyatsky legislature.

Seen as a liberal, Chirkunov, 47, accompanied Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref last month to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he met with international business leaders and urged them to invest in his region.