MOSCOW (Reuters) - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin won a resounding first-round victory in Russia's presidential election on Sunday, according to exit polls.
Putin won 58.3 percent of the vote according to an exit poll from the state-controlled VTsIOM research group, and 59.3 percent in a survey by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), effectively ruling out a second round of voting.
Following are comments by analysts, economists and investors on the election outcome:
YEVGENY MINCHENKO, INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF POLITICAL
"It was all very expected. I had expected Putin to receive around 60 percent. Now the fight is for the third place between (Vladimir) Zhirinovsky and (Mikhail) Prokhorov ... I think they'll lift Prokhorov to the third position. He's perceived as a tool in the hands of the Kremlin, they may need him.
"Putin is now at a very important crossroads: he is not going to keep his current support for long and he will have to make a choice. He'll have to turn more to the left, become more populist, or turn more to the more educated electorate, associated with (President Dmitry) Medvedev.
"I believe he will turn more to the left, he will become more populist, attend more to his traditional zone of support: workers, pensioners.
"I don't think the wave of protests will carry for too long - the difference in results cannot be explained by falsification."
TIM ASH, HEAD OF EMERGING MARKETS RESEARCH, RBS IN LONDON:
"It's more or less what was expected. I think more important will be a couple of things. Firstly: the general public reaction. Are we going to see claims of vote-rigging and public demonstrations, like we saw after the parliamentary elections?
"Beyond that, I think the key question for Putin, and for the markets, is the shape of his new government. Russia faces huge challenges. It's a watershed - Russia faces decline and stagnation unless they really kick-start reforms, and push forward an ambitious reform agenda.
"He needs a new, fresh cabinet. Markets will be disappointed if we see (President Dmitry) Medvedev return as prime minister. I think what we've learned from the parliamentary elections and the opposition is that people do want something different.
"We'll be waiting to see the language coming out of Putin, and looking for reform.
IVAN TCHAKAROV, CHIEF RUSSIA/CIS ECONOMIST AT RENAISSANCE
"This is a positive result in the sense that Putin did not get well above 60 percent, which in my mind would have been very negative. He is getting a result that is broadly consistent with what the opinion polls were saying before the elections. So I would expect markets to react cautiously positively to that.
"However, we do know that there are going to be protests. I think you have to keep two important things in mind. Investors are assigning much less risk premium to Russia relative to the situation after parliamentary elections when there was a lot of fear among investors.
"There isn't any viable competition to Putin. The second thing is that Putin will have to be in charge of country which, from a macroeconomic perspective, is structurally different from the kind of economy he presided over from 2000-2008. It was very easy during his first two terms. This time it will be much more difficult for him to deliver the economic goods.
"This means, in our view, that he will have an incentive to open up the economy, to make the economy more attractive, do something about corruption, do something about independence of the judiciary - the very things foreign investors are worried about. So in my view he will offer us a positive surprise, at least relative to expectations."
PLAMEN MONOVSKI, CIO, RENAISSANCE ASSET MANAGERS, MOSCOW:
"I don't think the market was looking for a specific number ... The election is not an event for the markets any more. What they will look for is an outlook on the reform agenda, to liberalization measures.
"There will be a lot of interest in (reform of) tariffs in the utilities sector -- that would be a pretty good signal the government is on a reform path.
"If there are protests, large-scale and sustained, the market will be concerned about populist measures -- we don't need them at this stage.
"It is critical to underscore the high level of break even for the oil price. If the oil price falls, there is very little room to maneuver. There is no time to waste."
MURAT TOPRAK, CHIEF EMEA FOREX STRATEGIST AT HSBC, LONDON:
"It is a big opportunity for Putin to change Russia. Now, as he is back in power, it is a good occasion for him to make necessary economic reforms."
"The market reaction should be quite limited, or it could be slightly positive because the vote results mean there will be no uncertainties about the second round."
(Reporting by John Bowker, Jason Bush and Andrey Ostroukh, Compiled by Douglas Busvine)