Russian President predicted to be elected on his fourth term

Russian policemen guard the entrance to the British Embassy in Moscow where theories abound

Russian policemen guard the entrance to the British Embassy in Moscow where theories abound Credit Andrey Rudakov Bloomberg

"I voted for our liberator, Putin", said Alexander Kiryukhin, a 79-year-old in the city of Simferopol, Crimea.

Election officials flew to far-flung regions to collect votes from indigenous herders, while cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov - the only Russian now aboard the International Space Station - cast his ballot by proxy.

Ms Sobchak, a 36-year-old former TV star, told reporters in Moscow that the higher the support for Mr Putin in the vote, "the tougher the system" Russians will face in his new term. "People came together. No other country in the world has such open and transparent elections".

"Another six years of slavery", said a piece of paper made up to look like a ballot which was attached to a porch on a central Moscow street - in an apparent reference to Putin's next term in office.

Ella Pamfilova, head of the commission organising the vote nationwide, has said any fraud will be stamped out.

In addition, US federal prosecutors are investigating whether Russian-linked groups interfered during the 2016 presidential election.

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In a major democratic exercise Russians are casting their ballots in the presidential election.

Most people who spoke to AFP said they voted for Putin, praising him for restoring stability and national pride after the humiliating collapse of the USSR.

Vladimir Putin cruised to victory in Sunday's presidential elections in a result that was never in question.

"Right now the turnout numbers are higher than we expected".

Kiev has said Russians living in Ukraine would not be able to vote as access to Moscow's diplomatic missions would be blocked.

Almost 109 million voters have the right to cast their ballot in approximately 100,000 voting stations across the 85 regions and republics of the Russian Federation.

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And much to the horror of neighbouring Ukraine, the election went ahead in the Crimea, nearly four years to the day after it was annexed by Russian Federation.

Ukrainian leaders are also angry over Russian support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has killed at least 10,000 people since 2014. As the Russian Constitution prohibits a president from serving three terms in a row, Putin served as the prime minister of Russia from 2008 to 2012. Mr Putin's campaign had hoped for a large turnout, to give him the strongest possible mandate.

Some 145,000 observers are monitoring the voting in the world's largest country, including 1,500 foreigners and representatives from Mr Navalny's political movement.

Navalny himself is barred from running.

Russia's election monitors reported irregularities at voting stations across country, even though authorities were under orders to ensure that the voting was free and fair after violations marred Putin's last election in 2012.

Putin, who has ruled Russian Federation for nearly two decades, stood against seven other candidates, but his most vocal critic Alexei Navalny was barred from the ballot for legal reasons and the final outcome was never in doubt.

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The Kremlin had aimed for a turnout of more than 70% to cement its legitimacy, but the election period was muted and marked by a sense of voter apathy.

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