SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Russian police have pushed back hard against protesters in the central part of Moscow. Some protesters have been beaten. Several hundred have been arrested. The mayor has called the unauthorized demonstrations there a security threat. Protesters are angry about how the city government operates and how election officials disqualified some opposition candidates from running for the city council.
Evan Gershkovich is a reporter with The Moscow Times and has been covering the rally. Thanks very much for being with us.
EVAN GERSHKOVICH: Thanks for having me on, Scott.
SIMON: What have you been seeing today?
GERSHKOVICH: We saw a really massive police presence in Moscow today from actually yesterday evening through this morning and up until the time the protest kicked off at 2:00 local time. Because the protest was planned in a - for a week in advance, the authorities had time to get ready for it. And in the hour leading up to the actual beginning of the protest, we already saw 200 protesters detained. So it was already a clear signal that things weren't going to go so smoothly for the protesters today.
SIMON: What's fueling these demonstrations? What do the protesters want?
GERSHKOVICH: In a larger sense, there have been, over the past few years, falling standards of living. And over the past year, that has led to a steep drop in President Vladimir Putin's ratings here and the ruling United Russia Party.
One of the surprising things with these protests that they have become so large is that the elections that the protesters are upset about, the fact that opposition candidates didn't make it onto the ballot, are quite small. So when you speak to political analysts about it and what you - when you get a sense of it from the - talking to the protesters on the street, it's that there is a greater frustration at play here. It's basically questions of fairness and getting political representation even at the most local level.
SIMON: And has the government response been simply to crack down on the protesters or something else?
GERSHKOVICH: Essentially. These protests started on July 14, two weeks ago. A couple of thousand people marched when it became clear that the opposition candidates wouldn't be on the ballot in the elections this September. And police were quite calm. They let them march, protest in front of city hall, protest in front of the Election Commission. But the opposition candidates kept calling people out. So we saw daily protests for a week. Police let them gather peacefully. Then they even approved a protest to take place last Saturday, and more than 20,000 people came out.
Usually when authorities approve a protest or they don't disperse them, they're hoping that frustration can be vented and then people forget about something. Clearly when they saw more than 20,000 people come out last Saturday, they realized that this problem wouldn't just go away.
So this week, we've seen a massive crackdown. Opposition Leader Alekei Navalny was arrested for 30 days. There were two overnight raids this Wednesday and last night of the opposition candidates at their apartments. The main candidates today were in court, so they actually couldn't come to the protest. And yeah, mass arrests. That's quite par for the course for Russian authorities. That's how they know how to disperse these things.
SIMON: Evan Gershkovich of the Moscow Times speaking to us from Moscow. Thanks so much.
GERSHKOVICH: Thanks for having me on Scott.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.