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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Report: Nashi Paid for Rallies in N.Y.

Pro-Kremlin youth groups have spent $400,000 organizing rallies in New York calling for the extradition of Chechen separatists who have resettled in the United States, The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend.

Nearly a dozen protests, intended to shape public opinion in the West, were held in the past two years near high-profile venues such as the United Nations headquarters and the World Trade Center site.

The protesters' message -- calling for the return of rebels deemed terrorists by Russian authorities -- is directly at odds with U.S. policy.

The protests in New York were covered by state-controlled Channel One and aired on the station's evening program. Channel One spokesman Igor Burenkov could not be reached for comment Monday.

One protest organizer, Yury Levintoff, said organizers in the United States took pains to hide the involvement of financial backers in Moscow, including Vasily Yakemenko, head of the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth movement, the Journal reported.

Yakemenko began the spate of demonstrations in summer 2004 "with a flurry of e-mails" to Boris Barshchevsky, his point man in the United States, the Journal said.

Barshchevsky was reported to be a Boston-area Russian emigre and former cab driver. Barshchevsky is thought to have recruited other Russian emigres for the protests. An organizer from New York was hired to give the protests a public face.

Barshchevsky has acknowledged to being the head organizer of the protests but insists he paid for them himself and did not receive any help from Russian backers. Reached by telephone in his Boston home early Monday, Barshchevsky hung up when told he was speaking to a reporter.

Levintoff, who also lives in Massachusetts, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Nashi spokesman Robert Shlegel on Monday denied his group had been involved in any rallies in the United States.

"Vasily Yakemenko already read this report, and I can only repeat what he said: This is delirium," Shlegel said, noting that Nashi was founded April 15, 2005, and that it could not have been behind protests that took place in 2004.

"The only campaign that Nashi organized outside Russia was Victory Day fireworks in Riga last May, and several rallies in some CIS countries," Shlegel said.

Until last year Yakemenko led Moving Together, another pro-Kremlin youth group.

"I cannot comment on other groups, including Moving Together, but I am sure that Vasily Yakemenko had nothing to do with the rallies in the U.S.," Shlegel said.

The United States and Britain have granted asylum to Chechen separatists Ilyas Akhmadov and Akhmed Zakayev, respectively, much to Moscow's chagrin.

The U.S. State Department also has pledged to maintain contacts with moderate Chechen rebels, drawing sharp criticism from the Foreign Ministry.

Western governments and human rights groups have long criticized Russia for its harsh conduct in Chechnya.