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BBC News Online
Russia's regions will shape the next parliament and its relationship with the Kremlin. Moscow can no longer afford to ignore the opinion of the local electorates or the views of the powerful regional governors, some of whom wield tremendous influence over voters. For a guide to the regional picture, click the key regions on the map:


North Caucasus

The North Caucasus is the most volatile and ethnically diverse region in Russia, with dozens of ethnic minorities living in Dagestan alone. The ongoing struggle for Chechnya inevitably influences the political climate not just in the local ethnic republics, but also in the adjacent areas of southern Russia which have for a long time felt the effects of instability across the border.

Anti-Russian sentiments are strong in parts of the region inhabited by national minorities, following about 200 years of persecution under the tsars and Stalin. Most analysts believe that tribal loyalties rather than party affiliations usually determine the outcome of the elections here.

There is a cultural divide between the predominantly Muslim republics situated next to the Caucasus mountains, and the mostly Orthodox areas of Southern Russia, and nationalism and xenophobia are rife in both parts of the region. They do, however, have one thing in common. Both parts of the North Caucasus are mostly agricultural which gives the Communist party a strong lead over parties that target the urban and more educated electorate. This is particularly true of the southern Russian areas of Stavropol, Krasnodar and Rostov which form part of the so-called "Red Belt".

The ultra-left wing of the Russian Communist party enjoys a strong following here.

In December's parliamentary elections no voting took place in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.