Wedged between City Hall and the Kremlin, those who cross the doorway of this spacious apartment on Moscow’s busy Tverskaya Street face a grilling.

“No Putinists, Stalinists or supporters of the annexation of Crimea,” campaign chief Anna Kuznetsova warns. “And maybe also not those who oppose paid parking,” she adds as an afterthought.

With its high ceilings and large windows, the apartment would have once housed a high-ranking member of the Soviet nomenklatura. But for the past five months, it has been the “Gudkov headquarters” of a grassroots campaign which has injected new energy into an election that has traditionally inspired little interest.

More than 7,000 candidates will compete for 1,502 seats in municipal elections in Moscow on Sept.10. And Kuznetsova’s team of so-called “United Democrats” have helped put 1,000 of those candidates on the ballot.

With President Vladimir Putin expected to seek reelection in March and mayoral elections in Moscow next September, the team sees the municipal poll as the first step in a battle to overturn Russia’s political landscape.

A novel idea

The idea was born out of partial failure.

Until last year, opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov was the only independent voice in a Russian parliament dominated by pro-Kremlin parties. But when he failed to win reelection, he and his campaign manager Maxim Katz found they had instead won a majority on the local council of Moscow’s Shchukino district, beating mostly pro-government nominees.

If they could win there, they thought, perhaps they could do it again across the city.