Putin on track for commanding win as Russians head to polls

Russians in the far east of the country have begun voting in presidential elections which are expected to give Vladimir Putin a commanding victory.

Mr Putin, who has run the country since 1999 as either president or prime minister, is standing for another six-year term.

Seven other candidates are standing, including a millionaire communist and a former reality television host.

Russia's main opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, is prohibited from standing.

Opinion polls give Mr Putin about 70 percent support, nearly 10 times the backing of his nearest challenger.

On Russia's eastern edge, in the Pacific coast city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, polling stations have opened.

Another term will take Putin to nearly a quarter century in power - a longevity among Kremlin leaders second only to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Many voters credit Putin, a 65-year-old former KGB spy, with standing up for Russia's interests in a hostile outside world, even though the cost is confrontation with the West.

A row with Britain over allegations the Kremlin used a nerve toxin to poison a Russian double agent in a sleepy English town - denied by Moscow - has not dented his standing.

The majority of voters see no viable alternative to Putin: he has total dominance of the political scene and the state-run television, where most people get their news, gives lavish coverage of Putin and little airtime to his rivals.

"He (Putin) is our president. We take pride in him," said Marianna Shanina, a resident of the Crimea region. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine four years ago, earning Putin admiration from many Russians and condemnation from the West.

"We wish him victory at the election. Our whole family will vote for Putin. Putin! Good health to you, beloved president!" Shanina said at a Putin election rally.