The British children's cartoon character Peppa Pig has been roped into an acrimonious political contest within Russian President Vladimir Putin's ruling party thanks to a campaign event involving a group of kindergarteners.
Two local parliamentarians from the United Russia party in the Urals city of Perm have come under fire after a video was posted online this week showing adults dressed as Peppa Pig and other animated characters stumping for them before kindergarteners.
The video shows one woman dressed as a character from the popular Russian cartoon Fiksiki and another dressed as Peppa urging the pupils to cheer for regional lawmaker Nikolai Dyomkin and Perm city lawmaker Mikhail Cherepanov at a May 19 outdoor event.
Speaking through a microphone with disco music pulsating in the background, the woman dressed as a Fiksiki character tells the kids that the two politicians are "magicians" who have brought "magic surprises" for them.
She urges the children to clap for both the men. After lackluster applause for Dyomkin -- the head of United Russia's regional branch -- she tells them to clap louder, lest he "be insulted.
WATCH: Entertainers Tout Politicians To Russian Kindergartners
A man dressed as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle later wades into the event to carry a table away.
The preschool political rally came just days ahead of United Russia's primaries in Perm to select candidates for federal and regional parliamentary elections in September that Putin loyalists are expected to dominate with the backing of the Kremlin's media and campaign machine.
United Russia is now facing criticism for roping children into the campaign.
The Moscow-based independent election monitor Golos said on its Twitter feed on May 20 that had formally asked regional prosecutors to investigate whether they even violated a law banning the use of children and public school facilities for political campaigns.
One unidentified woman interviewed by the local news portal V-kurse.ru expressed dismay.
"At first I thought it was just a kind of celebration," the woman said. "But when they started talking about deputies – I don't know, it doesn't seem right to me. A celebration should be a celebration."
Neither Dyomkin, who recently denounced what he called dirty campaigning, nor Cherepanov had commented publicly on the rally, which garnered national headlines in Russia.
An online clearing house for local political gossip in Perm suggested on May 20 that the event, which garnered national headlines and was discussed on radio talk shows in Russia, may have been organized by their political opponents as a PR stunt to besmirch them.
The website V-kurse.ru, which first broke the story and posted the video, is owned by local businessman and media magnate Dmitry Skrivanov, who is running against Dyomkin in the primaries for a spot as a United Russia candidate for regional parliamentary elections.
Kommersant reported last month that Skrivanov was miffed that he wasn’t selected to run on the party ticket for the federal State Duma elections. It cited a United Russia source as saying that Skrivanov has launched a “systemic, hybrid war against the party.”
But in an interview published later on May 20, Dyomkin appeared to confirm that his team was connected to the kindergarten event. He added, however, that he and his supporters had not instructed the performers to politicize a children’s party.
"One has to choose one’s words and think, because children have no place in politics," Dyomkin told the website Fedpress.ru.
“I understand that this incident might have offended some, and I ask forgiveness from these people,” he added.
Dyomkin said, however, that he is "happy that Peppa Pig supports United Russia."