Vladimir Putin declared victory in Russia's presidential contest on Sunday, telling a crowd in Moscow, "We have won an open and honest fight."
With 22% of the ballots counted, Putin had 62.88% of the vote, putting him on track to win back the presidency four years after term limits forced him out. His closest challenger, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, had 17.42%.
Putin served two terms as president, from 2000 to 2008, but a limit of two consecutive terms meant he had to step down. He has continued to dominate Russian politics as prime minister since then.
While the result of Sunday's election looked all but certain, the political environment surrounding it is different from any other in recent Russian history.
Parliamentary elections in December triggered an opposition protest movement, regularly bringing tens of thousands of people to the streets to protest allegations of electoral fraud, challenge Putin's le adership and demand reform.
In the run-up to Sunday's voting, Putin's spokesman played down the public protests over the past three months.
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