An exit poll from the Russian presidential election says incumbent Vladimir Putin has been swept back to power with 69% of the vote.
The non-governmental Public Opinion Foundation conducted the poll of 120,000 people in 1,200 voting stations.
But Mr Putin's overwhelming grip on power may worry those concerned about Russia's chances of developing into a Western-style democracy.
Why is the opposition in Russia so weak? Is President Putin's vision compatible with the West's ideals of human and civil rights?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
As a Russian living in the west I am constantly asked what I think about the situation in Russia. I listen to what the older Russians say and what the younger people say. The Russians who come from the older generation know what it is to live under a dictator, and now they fear that Russia is going to become an enslaved country again. The younger generation argue that Putin is good for Russia, unlike Yeltsin who constantly embarrassed Russia. Putin has given Russians a feeling of pride, and hope, something that Yeltsin did not.
Who are we to demand that Russia has a "western style" democracy? Looking at the elections in Europe and America I think our ability to lecture the Russians on what kind of democracy they should have is limited. Italy's leader owns a significant proportion of that country's media and that is apparently OK? The UK has a parliament which in no way resembles the proportion of voters for each party and as to the US, words fail me! If the Russians want a different 'democratic' system they will make it clear to their government and I, personally, think that Russians should ignore western criticism, at least until we get our own houses in order.
Chris Steele, Sheffield,UK
I live in US. And I'm Russian. It is funny to read the western media reports about Putin's success explained by the favourable disposition towards him by the state run media. The reality is that all the other candidates and their ideas have discredited themselves to the extent that even if any of them had had the prime TV time around the clock, Putin would still be elected.
Vladimir Putin is a very progressive leader. The standard of living in Russia has improved over the last four years. Employment is up. Plus, he is suave and cunning. He has the coolest walk since Tubbs from Miami Vice.
Devin Davis, Atlanta, US
Western style democracy is deeply flawed and will not work in Russia because the Russian Federation lies in the East. As a Russian living in the Western world I sincerely hope Putin will guide Russian to its own Eastern style democracy. Listen to the Russian people.
Samuel, Sydney, Australia
Russia needs a strong leader and Putin meets this criteria. Without this, Democracy does not have a chance of survival. Just look at recent events in Serbia where leadership is weak and with recent elections coming to close, democracy looks as though it will be short-lived there.
Milic, United States
It is important to understand that Putin has inherited a very problematic situation but he has dealt with it very successfully. It is inspiring to see that so many intelligent people actually believe their leader and openly support him because he really cares about the country. How can we speak about civil/human rights in Russia when our own leaders can get away with most terrible lies that have led to killings and disaster? Remember those WMDs not found in Iraq?? It is a shame that hypocrites like that are allowed to rule countries? For Russia, Bush and Blair are the examples of how to lie to a nation and get away with it, lets stop saying that Russia has to adopt to western-style values. Let's first find democracy in our own country...
Alec, London, UK
I wouldn't get too crazy about Putin. Despite all the problems he's caused and his less than total support for democratic ideas there is some good news; he's a true politician. Yes, that's good news. The reality is that if Putin does continue to keep the Russian people happy, he will eventually leave the office of president. He is not all powerful. Deep down, the Russian people know this and therefore accept his rule... for now.
Chris Irvine, USA
He will be a president for sure. There is no opposition strong enough to compete with him. From the first day of his presidency he has been strengthening his power: media, tycoons, regions - everything is under control including Federal Council and the Cabinet. He's free to do his job in the way he wants to do it. The question is: will he do it right? And one more question: isn't Mr. Putin's democracy just another form of totalitarianism? I hope it's not.
Eldar, Yekaterinburg, Russia
Putin won this election long time ago. His opponents had no money, no access to media and no support of the local governments' propaganda machine. Besides, as Putin's illustrious predecessor Joe Stalin used to say: "It does not matter who people vote for; what matters is who COUNTS the votes!" Therefore don't ask whether Putin is good for Russia; ask whether Russia has been good for Putin!
Mirek Kondracki, Alexandria, VA, USA
Who else do they have? Even if the opposition were viable, the country is still a mess. Russia has dabbled with western-style democracy for the last decade and it hasn't worked. Vladimir Putin is not good for Russia since he is an old KGB apparatchik and knows how to work the system to his advantage. Paycheques may be delivered on time and the economy may be growing, but heads are being broken to achieve it. Human and civil rights are an illusion and the pretence of opposition is strictly for show. There is only one authorised voice in Russia and it is that of Mr. Putin. It reminds me of the Leonid Brezhnev years. The only thing missing is the old Hammer and Sickle flag and the troops massed on the western borders.
Phil, Ottawa, Canada
I do not think that Colin Powell has any business criticizing the Russian Presidential election. If memory serves, the American President was elected in dubious circumstances. I have visited Russia several times and under Putin it is a stable and potentially prosperous country. I am sure that with Putin in charge for a second term, Russia has much to look forward to
Ashley Crump, Doncaster, England
I highly appreciated Matt's comments (below). They are much deeper than usual patronising remarks of the majority of western correspondents. I would suggest not to discuss a subject if you known it only from a newspaper cover page. I am Russian, I a scientist. As with most Russian people who only saw West from Russia I was very critical towards so called human rights and freedoms in my motherland. However, my opinion changed a lot after I experienced Western democracies while working in States and in the UK. I found my Russian friends being traditionally much more free-minded and critical in general; sometimes, even too independent and ready to argue with any authority. What is individual freedom as an abstraction, and what is individual freedom in a Western context? Are you sure they representing the same categories?
Olga, Dundee, UK
Remember that the Russian people went through lots of hardships during the transition in the 90s. Today, Russians are experiencing improved standard of living with more incomes, food, stability and security under Putin. The landslide victory attests to Putin's genuine popularity and strong public confidence. Moreover, the high turn out is enough motivation for Putin's to continue implementing his vision and policies. His victory is naturally a reward from the electorate for his hard work and great performance. Truly, the Russians are grateful to their leader. It is no media bias Other leaders can learn from this example.
Peter Bangura, Freetown, Sierra Leone
Putin appears to be doing a good job, but the spotlight in Russia tends to be on Moscow and St Petersburg. Go out into the small towns and villages, and you see a different picture. Small towns are dying because people are having to move to the cities to find work. Villagers are living in poverty. In Birsk, we have no drinking water on tap or sewerage system - things that we all take for granted in the UK. We see nothing being done to improve the lifestyle. But would anybody else do a better job than Putin?
Phil Rogers, Bournemouth, UK, and Birsk, Russia
A strong, prosperous and peaceful Russia can only be good for world security and Putin is the best candidate with a realistic chance of achieving this.
Tombyrne, Scarborough, England
There evidently can be no such thing as "Western-style democracy" in Russia. Throughout history this country had had strong hand rulers, from Peter the Great to Catherine II, Alexander III and Joseph Stalin. And so with the demise of the USSR and the first tentative years of "democracy" there came chaos, instability and turmoil. The emergence of Mr. Putin on Russia's political front was indeed very timely, as the country had almost got to the "point of no return" - both economically and politically. The reason why he has so much traction with the Russian people is that for the first time in almost 20 years there finally is a smart, strong and responsible leader, the one who is not wishy-washy, or rampant, or tsar-like, who seems to really care. And so they voted for him today not wanting to throw this hard-won political, economical and social stability to the wing again. Was that the only right decision to make or just another irretrievable mistake for which the Russian people will have to pay with their freedom still remains to be seen.
Demitry, Moscow, Russia
Give Russia time. As long as it is moving towards democracy and away from communism, the rest of the world should rejoice. They should be patient and not expect Russia to evolve into a western-style democracy overnight. Even if it evolves into its own brand of democracy, let it be as long as the Russian people are happy and prosper.
Leslie Chew, Singapore
The results of the elections were not that much of a surprise for me. However the fact of his popularity is a complete nonsense. I wonder how a man with such unprofessional political behaviour, could have won so much popularity. And I think it is not Putin's political and oratorical skills that made him popular but pure propaganda from the screens of Russian biased TV. There are clear signs of influence on people's minds.
From my point of view there are no signs of success. Putin's economic policy is a failure: no clear strategy to encourage economic growth, no substantial investment neither in education, nor in technological development. It is 14 years passed since Russia announced its intention to build a free market economy but still Russian goods (there are few of them, but there are some e.g. cars) are completely uncompetitive abroad, despite the labour is cheap. In conclusion, there are many vital problems to be solved in Russia, there are so many goals to be achieved and it is not Putin who seems to be capable to bring prosperity to Russian people.
Jan G, Russia
Putin may well be good for Russia but is he good for democracy? No. If he crushes the criminals who had stolen billions from the ordinary people, then he will be viewed as a saviour. The jury is out. He needs to act decisively now.
Phil O'Donnell, Auckland, New Zealand
I'd like to know if all these people writing in from America and other places have actually been to Russia or ever seen a Russian. What gives you the right to tell the people of the biggest country in the world that their president is wrong, and that he's some sort of dictator. I've lived as a student in Russia since September now, and will live here for a long time to come. The reason? There are more civil freedoms here than there are in my supposedly democratic country. Russia is far more free, though admittedly not necessarily democratic. I've got many Russian friends, and they all voted for Putin. All you can talk about is oil prices and wealth, which is frankly sick. People matter more. They're happy that after the nightmare years between 1985 and 2000, things are finally looking up for them. My friends support Putin and so do I. So stop lecturing people in a country thousands of miles away from the cosy comforts of your armchairs.
Matt, Moscow, Russia
Mr Putin is the first Russian leader after Gorbachev and Yeltsin who has started to set limits for democracy and civil freedoms. That's what I think about him and that's what everyone in Russia should consider while voting for him.
Greggy, Arkhangelsk, Russia
The economy is growing when compared to before - people worry about the chaos coming again.
The opposition is so weak because of Putin's influence over the local media and the government's ownership of it. Putin's vision of human and civil rights is not compatible with western standards of these. However, given the corruption, organised crime and terrorism that Russia has dealt with since the end of the Soviet Union, this appears to be the type of government necessary to deal with post-communist Russia.
Dustin Jones, Houston, USA
One thing for sure is that Putin seems better than Yeltsin or Gorbachev.
Alexei, Jackson, MI, USA
Putin is perfect for Russia; he's a strongman in a country that cannot handle individual freedom. We in the West have no right to even make suggestions until we have lived as Russians. All morals and ethics are completely relative, and we should say "congratulations" when Putin wins. He will have done it the Russian way, not the Western way.
Vladimir Toronoski, London
Russia is at a transitional period at the moment and someone like Putin is absolutely necessary. The way the Russian government acted in the Khodorkovsky affair was probably not up to the civil rights standards of a strong, developed Western country, but in extreme circumstances (such as the current ones in Russia) even Western democracies may have to act in an imperfect way.
Russians have more cars - thanks to Boris Berezovsky. Russia has stable oil prices - thanks to Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Putin wants to lock up those who are creating wealth in Russia, take the credit, and silence anyone who tries to call his game. He represents the old thinking of Russia, that those who question him are not critics, but enemies.
John Hensley, California, USA
Putin is constantly criticised by the US and UK propaganda machines, therefore he is likely to be a good president for Russia. It is clear that the US and UK want to see Russia even more weak than it currently is.
Iouli Andreev, Vienna, Austria
Russian people are very tolerant. There was no leader in Russian history that was legally voted out of the office by the people. But when things get too hard, we have revolutions... Putin will be in power, as long as we believe in him.
Konstantin, Moscow, Russia
The opposition in Russia is so weak that it makes Putin so strong. Do not blame him for the power you have given to him. He can be only as strong as others allow him. Russia turned out to be ready to slide back out of democracy - Putin just happened to be around...
Sergey, Voorburg, The Netherlands
I do not think this is high time to decide whether Putin is good or bad or even if he is democratic or not, as for today's Russia there is no alternative. There are a lot of very good politicians in Russia today, but only one of them is able to manage almost unreliable reins of government of Russia. And this man is Putin.
Katya Kulakowskaya, Lipetsk , Russia
I am sick of Russia being looked down upon by the West. We need a leader who will restore pride in Russia, and Putin will not do that. I call for Vladimir Zhirinovsky to become the President, because he has the true interests of the Russian people in him
Slava Fetisov, Pskov, Russia
Putin is the unbelievable chance that appeared for Russia in the last moment before its final fall. This vote could mean the salvation of the Russian nation for a long term and the unique chance for the restoration of the vital World balance.
Vera, Bucharest, Romania
Russia has had authoritarian governments or worse for many centuries, and no experience of anything else. The Soviet decades left the Russians in much worse shape to participate in ruling themselves than they were before the First World War. Most of them want a strongman and now they have one. Are his methods compatible with the West's ideals? Of course not. But the West's ideals do not include any response to a situation where the great majority want a dictator.
Stephen, Hillsboro, OR, USA
I was very sceptical of Putin initially but judging by his actions and results it is clear that he is competent - and he is the first Russian leader in quite a while about whom I can say that. The possible problem is that while strong leaders can improve the situation they get usually get much power. While that is not bad in its own right, the person who comes after them may be unwilling to relinquish the extra power. But then, this is not Putin's problem, but that of many governmental systems including the modern republic.
Yakov, Moscow, Russia
Why should Putin be compatible with the West's ideals of human and civil rights? Russia is not a Western country, it has a deep cultural and historical legacy that prevents a development of the Western democratic principles, for better or worse. It is not Asian either, but something of a mixture of the two. People outside the country should begin to understand that, and stop measuring Russia on Western principles, which even there vary greatly from country to country.
Nikita A, Oxford, UK
This coming Sunday I am going to cast my vote for Putin. Is everything perfect in Russia now? Of course not. Some day, I am sure, we will build a true RUSSIAN (not necessarily Western-style) democracy. First, we have to survive as a nation after the years of decline and chaos caused by "liberal" cleptocrats. I think Vladimir Putin is the man to lead our country through these very difficult times.
Petr, Russia/ USA
After a long time Russia got its perfect Leader. He is an ideal President capable of handling various aspects of the country whether economic reform, stability in country, improving foreign relations. And under the leadership of Mr Putin Russia will once again become the superpower.
I'm not against Putin as a person. I find him very charismatic political leader. But I'm against violation of democracy in my country. I'm for democratic Russia. And between Putin as a good man and Russia as a strong democracy I choose my country. And Putin does violate democracy. So I'm against Putin as a president of Russia.
Ekaterina, Moscow Russia
Mr. Putin is the first Russian leader to deeply care about Russia and her people in the past 90 years. For the first time we are not living in some "experiment"! He is giving Russians freedom without chaos, and a government that is not a comedy show. One of the biggest complaints against Mr. Putin is that he has destroyed the freedom of the Russian media. When was Russian media free? It was the voice of the oligarchs who paid for the stories and propaganda they wanted. Russian people want real freedom. Freedom to live in safety, to work honestly and to be able to look at our government with pride, not shame. Is Putin good for Russia? We will show you this Sunday!
Dima, USA / Russia
Mr. Putin is nothing but a Soviet. Not only did he believe that the KGB was a patriotic organisation he has re-made it; getting rid of tax and border police and handing such responsibilities to the FSB can only prove this further. He has used underhand tactics to win this election, i.e., arresting oligarchs who have enough influence to tell the truth about him and dominating media influence.
Jacob, Truro, England
Putin is so far the ideal person for Russia. You would never call him a tyrant, yet he has more control than anyone before him. He keeps Russian heritage but doesn't try to neglect 70 years of Soviet history. He is loved by most people.
A, Kyiv, Ukraine
Putin is not building the institutional infrastructure that a democratic country needs for its stability in the future. He needs to address this issue before he can be called a good leader.
Charlton Dwight, Montreal, Canada
Just as communist leaders did in the Soviet Union, Putin has used propaganda to raise the people's estimation of him. Any approval rating cannot be truly reflective of the people's sentiments as long as the Kremlin eliminates dissenting voices. Regardless of what Putin has done for Russia so far, the people deserve the chance to be adequately informed of opposing viewpoints.
Dana L, New York City, USA
I don't think that Mr Putin is good president. He is typical homosoveticus, that means he has an inferiority complex and he is too self assured. Mr Putin has some manners which dictators usually have. Why is Mr Khodorkovsky in jail? Because he wants to be president of Russia. So Mr Putin decided to defend himself and his second term. Why aren't adequate rivals running for presidency next week?
Elene, Tbilisi, Georgia
Well, there isn't anybody else who could lead the country right now. He has his faults - like too much influence over the media, particularly TV news, which has created a depressing wave of cynicism in Russia. But at least he's efficient. Let's hope he's also sincere in wanting to stamp out corruption and organised crime. And let's hope he learns the value of constructive criticism so that a modicum of democracy can flourish in Russia.
Jack Thompson, London UK
Funny that people who live outside Russia think they have a right to judge us. The country only lives reasonably well because of the high oil prices. Otherwise - the judicial system is in ruins, the police are too powerful and too ineffective, chauvinism is on the rise, Chechnya is still on fire. What has Putin done apart from helping the bureaucracy and corruption?
Mikhail Milin, Russia (via www.bbcrussian.com)
I believe if western democracies will support Russia by inviting to join EU, NATO and WTO Putin will orientate his policy to DEMOCRACY very rapidly.
As soon he will get strong political support for Russia from the Western world he will be less depended from his radical circle.
So finally every one will benefit and world will be safer.
Victor, Netherlands (via www.bbcrussian.com)
I think he is. Having lived in Russia, I have seen real economic changes that took place under his first term. Besides it seems to some extend managed democracy is far better than democratic chaos that we have seen under Yeltsin terms. The point is that at this stage Russia needs strong leadership in order to lead Russia through current transition period - Mr Putin is Mr Right.
Molomjamts, Warwick, UK
Putin seems to possess the rare ability to be a strong leader, without creating huge divisions within his country. I wish Western politicians would follow his lead, and in particular, start locking up the corrupt super-rich, instead of funding their careers through them.
Jon E, France
I am Russian. Russia doesn't have any alternative besides Putin. What are we going to do? We have to choose him.
Julia, Cheboksary, Russia
Yes Putin is the best for a very long time, he also is a man of his word.
Phil Stevenson, Antwerp, Belgium
Vladimir Putin has done a 180 degree turn in Russia. A country on the verge of economic collapse has become one of the fastest-growing GDP countries in the world. Putin is modernising his country after 10 years of stagnation. If he was not a good leader he would be voted out of office.
Bill, Flint, Michigan, USA
Putin has tried to eliminate opposition in the media. When he appeared in the USA he seemed kind and caring about his people. But in Russia when he was asked questions by citizens on nationwide TV, he failed to answer questions about controlling the mafia and cutting bureaucratic chaos and corruption that inhibits business.
Alden Marshall, Gatlinburg, USA
If there is huge support for a leader in a democratic country, I think there is something wrong with that country's democracy.
Ismail Hosoglu, Linkoping, Sweden
At present, Putin seems to be an ideal president for a country like Russia. He is doing a great job improving foreign relations and economic developments.
Suraj Chhetri, Kathmandu, Nepal
How much of President Putin's achievements (basically concerning the economy) is due to sheer luck and the business cycle? To judge him solely on the Russian economy is unfair. I think the ultimate test on President Putin's "greatness" is whether he is confident enough to let go his control on the media. A leader can never be considered great or even good if he / she does not tolerate a free press.
William Kwan, Hong Kong
It is generally very bad for one entity to have too much power because of weak or absent opposition. However, it is for the Russian people to decide whether Putin represents the future or the past, and they will decide at the ballot box. Ultimately their decision has to be final regardless of what we might think of their choice.
John B, UK
Yes he is. And I am not sure why some people are trying to measure Russia with a "western democracy" yard stick. We have a Russian Democracy. I can't think of a single right I am being denied in Russia and I have something to compare with, having lived in Europe for a long time. The opposition does not come close to Vladimir not because they are denied some sort of election freedom, but because they simply do not have the trust of the people. We have had enough of chaos brought about by "western style democrats".
The media is too lopsided in Russia. A strong opposition is a necessity for any democracy. Minority rights and an impartial justice system are other key building blocks for democracy. One of Russia's problems is anti-Semitism. Mr Putin should fix that problem. Russians should be more aware of the incredible cultural richness that the Jewish community in that country represents. Russia has great potential that can be realized only if a stable democracy is allowed to thrive.
Topi Lappalainen, Helsinki, Finland
Living in Moscow and being part of the build up to the election race, it is quite obvious that there is only one candidate for the position, and really, only one candidate for the job - namely Vladimir Putin.
Vadim Smith, Moscow, Russia
Putin is not only good for Russia but is also good for America, UK, France, Germany, India... in fact he is good for the entire world.
Great countries are founded by great men who bestow a tradition of law, and a system of checked power even if it is to diminish ones own power. Yeltsin and Putin have done all they could to weaken the Duma and eliminate opposition. The concentration of power in the presidency erodes the foundation of democracy.
Ian, Austin, TX, USA
Putin has the strong allegiance of the Russian people. If he is whom they overwhelmingly want to be president, it is not up to us to judge the Russians' choice. He might be authoritarian, but, to be quite frank, sometimes a country needs an authoritarian leader to lead them through tough times. Putin seems to be that leader for the Russians.
Jered Lambiotte, Conway, AR
It may be that Russian Democracy is to share a lot of similarities with some Latin Democracies. It may have to be this way until Russia is better off economically.
The Russians know who is the best person to lead them. If the opposition have the strength we shall see a change in the forth coming election. And the opposition need to demonstrate to their fellow countrymen that they have all what it take to maintain peace and democracy in Russia.
Emmanuel Gonda, Canada/Sudan
Strict control of the media and the continuous censorship of opponents unfortunately attest to the fact that Russia might have liberated itself from the shackles of communism 13 years ago, but it still has a long way to go to perceive and embody western democratic principles.
Marc D., Quebec, Canada
Putin is a dictator like others. A dictator is never good.
Aissa, Zagora, Morocco
It is hard to tell if he is good or not. The economic situation has gotten better under his administration, but that is because of high oil prices. Russia needs stability, and he is providing some semblance of it. But no one really knows what he is up to, so that is the negative. We expect anything can happen here.
I've had serious suspicions of Putin and what appears to be his anti-democratic behaviour. Having said that, what counts is what the people of Russia think, and they seem to be overwhelming in favour of his strong, centralized brand of leadership. 80% approval should be good enough for the rest of the world to give Putin the benefit of the doubt. It seems now in Russia the choice is between Putin and the robber baron new capitalists who have amassed shocking wealth and power in very little time. If this is the case, I understand Putin's popularity. Best of luck to the people of Russia.
Duncan, New Jersey, USA
Of course he is. He's the first president of Russia since communism to inspire some measure of pride, purpose and patriotism to the nation. What was really worrying was the country adrift and leaderless under Yeltsin. You cannot create democracy out of chaos.
Peter C. Kohler, Washington DC USA
I am not Russian and I still feel he is my leader. In our life times we have not seen inspirational leaders; I think Mr. Putin comes close to a "Perfect leader". His love for Russia, his resolve and dept of thought will make Russia a superpower again. People like Mr. Putin & Mr. Clinton should not be limited by terms. I don't know much about "west's Ideal of Human & civil rights" as I have seen none.
Is Blair good for the UK? If Russians choose to re-elect Putin, that's their business. It's well-known that the West's ideals of human and civil rights are applied differently to different countries, especially depending on their importance to and relationship with the United States.
Putin is what Russia need now. He embodies the kind of leadership the Russians most respond to. Russians need someone to strongly admire and fear in this time of political and economic uncertainty for the country.
For that Machiavellian role -Putin is perfect.
Victoria, Rome, Italy