VLADIVOSTOK, Russia - Vladimir Putin is almost certain to win a third presidential term in an election that began on Sunday in Russia's far east, though opponents have challenged the legitimacy of a vote they say is skewed in his favor.
Putin's aides hope a strong win will take the sting out of an urban protest movement that casts the former KGB spy as an authoritarian leader who rules by allowing a corrupt elite to siphon off the wealth from the world's biggest energy producer.
In interviews from the Arctic to the shores of the Pacific Ocean, Russians gave a mixed picture: some expressed anger at being offered no real choice while others said Putin had proved he was a leader who could rule Russia.
"I shall of course vote for Putin. Who else is there?," said Mikhail, a student at the State University of Economics and Service in Vladivostok, a port city of 600,000 people on the Pacific and the biggest city in Russia's Far East.
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