STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We have a story of protests against Russian election interference in elections that are held in Russia.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).
INSKEEP: Protesters there are chanting, Russia without Putin - not what you'd like to hear if you're President Vladimir Putin. The protesters were objecting to the rules for upcoming city council elections in Moscow. Three well-known opposition figures say their candidacies have been blocked. NPR's Lucian Kim is covering this story in Moscow. Hey there, Lucian.
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: What exactly is it about the rules for city council in Moscow that the protesters say were unfair?
KIM: Well, independent candidates are required to collect thousands of signatures from voters. And what happened is the commission ruled that too many of these signatures were invalid - invalidating those candidates' place on the ballot.
INSKEEP: Basically, there was said to be fake signatures. That's what the allegation is here, I gather.
KIM: Exactly. That was the allegation. I actually spoke to one protester. His name is Vladimir Kuznitov (ph) who works in banking. This is what he had to say.
VLADIMIR KUZNITOV: (Foreign language spoken).
KIM: So what he's saying is that he himself volunteered to collect signatures, and he's upset that now they've just been thrown out and invalidated. I spoke to a number of protesters. And what struck me was how restrained and really subdued they were. The system they're up against, Steve, is so powerful, and political protests here in the past have sort of fizzled out and gone nowhere. These protests get almost no media coverage, and the protesters themselves are in a tiny minority.
INSKEEP: OK. There are a couple of things to follow up on here, and first is just to note, Lucian, what you're describing in its basic form is something that sounds familiar in democracy in the United States. You may have to get signatures to get on the ballot in United States. The signatures may be contested. They may be invalidated. But what you're saying is, or what the protesters are saying is, these basic democratic rules are being used in a way to stifle democracy and limit who's on the ballot. But the other thing here is that slogan, Russia without Putin. What does a city council election in Moscow have to do with Vladimir Putin?
KIM: (Laughter) Well, it has everything to do with President Putin. The next presidential election isn't until 2024, so Putin's opponents are now really focused on local elections, trying to make any inroads into this monolithic political system. Moscow is the key. It's Russia's largest city and is probably also the place where the opposition has a potentially large support base. So the idea of the opposition is because turnout for local elections is usually very low, if they run an enthusiastic campaign by well-known opposition candidates, they actually have a high chance of success. And that's exactly why their candidates were denied a chance to run. The Kremlin strategy has always been to completely block out the opposition. It believes that any concessions it might make are a sign of weakness and maybe even a slippery slope to defeat.
INSKEEP: Well, that's interesting. Does Vladimir Putin actually have reason to be worried if there ever were a free and fair election in Moscow?
KIM: Well, a Putin spokesman has said the Kremlin is following these elections but that of course this is a local issue for local authorities to decide. I don't think Putin is too worried yet. The protest last night that I went to was rather small, but it's always a balancing act for the government. I mean, if they apply force or too much force, that could have sort of a boomerang effect and bring out more people onto the street. These are very disciplined protesters. This is not Paris. You could really call them bourgeois or middle-class protesters. They're interested in their rights, not creating some kind of revolution. The opposition wants to turn these city council elections into a new issue to rally around. And they're really hoping for a big turnout at a protest that they're planning for the weekend.
INSKEEP: OK. We'll keep following that. Lucian, thanks so much.
KIM: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow.
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