He's back: Vladimir Putin has regained the Russian presidency for six more years, after serving as the country's Prime Minister for the last six. In spite of calls of election rigging, the notorious SCUBA-diving, bare-chested-horseback-riding macho-pol has claimed victory, winning nearly 60% of the vote.
Two television exit polls, released after voting ended at 1700 GMT, forecast the former KGB spy would win 59.3 and 58.3 percent of the votes, enough to make a runoff against the second-placed candidate unnecessary.
His nearest rival, communist Gennady Zyuganov, fell short of 20 percent in both polls.
Putin's opponents said voting in many parts of the vast country was skewed to help him return to the presidency after four years as prime minister and vowed to step up the biggest protests since he rose to power 12 years ago.
Putin was likely to portray the victory as strong backing against the opposition protesters, although he has promised not to crack down on them.
He is also expected to return to the Kremlin with tough fighting talk against the West, a trademark of his first presidency and election campaign.
Some voters expressed anger at being offered no real choice in a vote pitting Putin against four others - communist Zyuganov, nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, ex-parliamentary speaker Sergei Mironov and billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.
Others said Putin, 59, who has portrayed himself as a man of action and guardian of stability, was the tough national leader the world's biggest country and energy producer needed.
The question becomes, how will this affect the US-Russia relationship? Tensions have risen a bit in recent weeks, as Russia's delegation to the UN has repeatedly blocked sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is perpetrating a bloody crackdown on anti-regime protests. Will Putin come out swinging at the West? Or will he try to pretend he's interested in working with us?
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