Russians vote in presidential election across 11 time zones

The headquarters of the FSB security service the successor to the KGB in central Moscow

"For now it's just one Putin, and other candidates are a circus - we don't really have an option", he told CNN outside a Moscow cafe on Sunday night.

The main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was barred from the race. He is calling for a boycott of the election, saying it is an undemocratic farce.

Cadets of the Nakhimov naval academy vote at a polling station during Russia's presidential election in Sevastopol, Crimea. Britain and Russian Federation last week announced expulsions of diplomats over the spy case and the USA issued new sanctions.

Moscow has denounced both cases as efforts to interfere in the Russian election.

Ukraine is protesting voting in Crimea, annexed by Russian Federation from Ukraine four years ago.

Crimea and Russia's subsequent support of separatists in eastern Ukraine led to an array of USA and European sanctions that, along with falling oil prices, damaged the Russian economy and slashed the ruble's value by half. But Putin's popularity remained strong, apparently buttressed by nationalist pride.

Putin, who has been in power for 18 years, was widely expected to glide into another six-year tenure with most polls suggesting he could take around 70 per cent of the vote.

Just weeks before the election, he announced that Russian Federation has developed advanced nuclear weapons capable of evading missile defences. The Russian military campaign that bolsters the Syrian government is clearly aimed at strengthening Moscow's foothold in the Middle East, and Russia eagerly eyes any reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula as an economic opportunity. Voters also faced billboards celebrating Russian greatness - a major theme of Putin's leadership.

"Everyone knows that Putin will be the president again".

"The program that I propose for the country is the right one", he declared. Over 108 million citizens in Russian Federation and almost 2 million outside are eligible to take part in the vote.

"In America and Europe, they are trying to make us bend over and kneel, but we're still standing", Sergei Babayev, a 55-year-old transport manager, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) in central Moscow shortly ahead of the vote.

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"We are a great big team together and I am a member of your team", he said, after a colorful show of high-energy musical performances. He spoke on condition that his last name not be used out of concern that his employer - the Moscow city government - would find out.

In retaliation, Kiev said earlier this week Russians living in Ukraine would not be able to vote as access to Moscow's diplomatic missions would be blocked.

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

Voting fraud was widespread in Russia's 2011 parliamentary vote, triggering massive protests in Moscow against Putin's rule.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was barred from running against Putin, said he boycotted the election and had urged supporters not to vote because of the absence of any real competition, despite seven other names on the ballot.

At polling station number 216 in Ust-Djeguta, in the Karachayevo-Cherkessia region of southern Russia, Marina Kostina was marshalling groups of voters to be photographed.

By early evening Sunday, the non-governmental election monitoring group Golos had counted 2,000 incidents of voting irregularities, including observers being prevented from carrying out monitoring. In Moscow alone, authorities spent 50 million rubles ($870,000) on balloons and festive decorations at polling stations.

In Artyom, a man tossed several ballots into the box, according to Tatiana Gladkhikh, the head of the regional election commission.

The presidential vote is set on the anniversary of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Ukraine is also angry over Russian support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, where a deadly conflict continues.

Arsenals Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who has a net worth of more than £10bn, was also spotted at a voting station.

Yekaterina said she wasn't sure what she would do with her ballot, musing that "maybe I'll just write 'Putin is a moron.'" But she understood that not showing up at the polling place Sunday would not only endanger her job but would reflect badly on her boss, whom she likes.

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