RUSSIA ELECTIONS.jpg
A member of the local election commission prepares a polling station at a local school in Moscow, Russia, 16 September 2016. Parliamentary elections in Russia are scheduled to be held on 18 September 2016.
Photograph: EPA/MAXIM SHIPENKOV

Russians are heading to polling stations across the country on Sunday in the first elections for the federal parliament since Russia annexed Crimea two years ago.

Russia plunged into economic recession after the Crimea annexation amid tit-for-tat sanctions with the West, and Sunday's elections, for all 450 seats in the lower house of parliament, are seen as a barometer of support for the country's ruling party, United Russia.

Recent polls show waning support for the party, which has dominated the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, since 2003. According to Russia's largest independent pollster, Levada Center, popular approval for the party dropped from 39 per cent in early August to 31 per cent in September.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will be monitoring the elections throughout the country, except for the disputed territory of Crimea.

"The EU has condemned and has not recognized the illegal annexation of Crimea," Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for the EU's foreign policy department, told journalists in Brussels last week.

OSCE observers "will not be conducting any activities in the illegally annexed territories," Kocijancic said. "We are unwavering in our support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine."

The actual annexation of Crimea is a foreign policy issue not expected to considerably influence voters' choices for parliament. However, the economic hardship following the annexation will strongly weigh on voters' minds, political analysts told dpa.

"Domestic concerns will influence the elections. United Russia vote totals are expected to be under 50 per cent," pundit Vladimir Frolov said.

But like United Russia, the other three parties currently in the Duma - the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) and A Just Russia - are expected to stay there.

However, A Just Russia might have difficulty earning anything above the 5-per-cent threshold required for the party to stay in the Duma, political analyst Mikhail Troitskiy told dpa.

The social-democratic A Just Russia is widely considered the "fake opposition," Troitskiy said. It has "disappointed many of its supporters."

Unlike in the Duma, the members of the country's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, are appointed by regional governments.

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