Profiles of Russia's 2012 presidential election candidates
- 1 March 2012
- From the section Europe
The Russian people are set to go to the polls on 4 March 2012 to choose a successor to President Dmitry Medvedev.
Only five presidential candidates remain after the Central Elections Commission's refused to register liberal opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky. Below are BBC Monitoring's profiles of the five candidates.
A former intelligence officer and judo black-belt Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, 59, has already been president twice and is considered favourite to win this time.
He has been Russia's prime minister for the past four years since the constitution limits presidential terms to no more than two consecutively. Mr Putin's protege, Dmitry Medvedev, was elected president in 2008, but it is widely believed that Mr Putin rather than Mr Medvedev has held the real power.
Mr Putin was born in 1952 in Leningrad (St Petersburg). He served as a KGB officer in East Germany in the 1980s, following university studies in law and economics.
After a stint as an adviser to the mayor of St Petersburg in the early 1990s when he acquired the nickname the "grey cardinal", he moved to Moscow and joined President Boris Yeltsin's administration.
President Yeltsin appointed him prime minister in 1999 and finally acting president later that year on New Year's Eve. He won his first presidential election the following year.
His candidacy has been backed by the ruling United Russia party, of which he has been leader - although not a formal member - since 2008. But the party's popularity has been falling in recent years and Mr Putin has tried to distance himself from it by setting up the All-Russian People's Front as his support base.
Mr Putin brought stability to Russia following the chaos of the Yeltsin years, but his critics accuse him of stifling democracy and introducing censorship.
And his support appears to have begun fracturing. In November, he was booed during a martial arts contest in Moscow. In December, protesters angered by allegations of fraud in the Duma elections demanded his resignation.
Mr Putin at first dismissed the protests as US-sponsored but recently indicated he was ready to talk to the opposition.
His manifesto includes pledges to modernise the country and create 25 million jobs over the next 20 years.
Mr Putin has long cultivated an image of himself as a man of action. Russian television has shown him variously shooting a tiger, riding a Harley Davidson and flying a fighter plane.
But his private life is closely guarded. His wife Lyudmila has stayed out of the limelight in recent years and Mr Putin has gone to great lengths to keep their two adult daughters out of the public gaze.
A biography of him in English entitled "A Man without a Face" by Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen is due to be published on 1 March.
The man rated as Mr Putin's main rival for the presidency is veteran politician Gennady Andreyevich Zyuganov, 67.
Recent polls put him in second place with an approval rating of 11% against Mr Putin's 45-52%, according to different pollsters.
Mr Zyuganov has led the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) - successor to the discredited Soviet-era Communist Party - since 1993 and draws his main support from older people, nostalgic for the Soviet Union.
In an open letter to President Medvedev in 2010, Mr Zyuganov called for the "re-Stalinisation" of Russian society.
He is no newcomer to presidential campaigning, having stood three times previously. On each occasion, he was the runner-up.
His current election campaign is based on strong criticism of Prime Minister Putin, of whom he has said: "People can vote for Putin" but "this will lead to the collapse of the country".
Mr Zyuganov's manifesto contains pledges to restore industries in "deep crisis", such as shipbuilding, the defence sector and agriculture. His main economic goal is reportedly the nationalisation of Russia's natural resources, while his foreign policy aims include "increasing the role of the UN... and restricting the influence of Nato".
Mr Zyuganov was born in 1944 in Mymrino, Orel Region, and is the son of teachers. He and his wife Nadezhda have a son and a daughter.
Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky, 65, is the founder and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR).
He is considered a showman of Russian politics, blending populist and nationalist rhetoric, anti-Western invective and a brash, confrontational style.
Mr Zhirinovsky is often viewed as something of a clown but has stood in four previous presidential elections. In 2008 he came third with 9% of the vote.
Mr Zhirinovsky's campaign slogan for 2012 is "Vote Zhirinovsky, or things will get worse".
Despite his anti-Kremlin rhetoric and frequent outbursts, Zhirinovsky is seen as a Kremlin loyalist and a political survivor.
In his manifesto, he promises to solve all the key problems facing Russia, such as corruption and drug smuggling, within two years. If elected, he says, he will make sure that there is no unemployment or illegal immigration.
He believes that "Russia should be a centralised state without regional princelings". On foreign policy, Mr Zhirinovsky describes Britain as Russia's "worst enemy of the last few centuries" but admits that "in the 20th century the USA took Britain's place".
Mr Zhirinovsky was born in 1946 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. He graduated from Moscow State University's Institute of Asian and African Countries and then from the same university's law school in 1977.
He is married to Galina. The couple have one son, Igor Lebedev, who is himself an MP and leader of the LDPR's parliamentary faction.
Sergei Mikhaylovich Mironov, 58, was until recently a long-term loyal ally of Prime Minister Putin.
During the 2004 presidential election campaign Mr Mironov - although a candidate himself - famously said that he was going to vote for and support Vladimir Putin. Mr Mironov came last in the election.
In 2006, he set up the left-of-centre A Just Russia as an opposition party. It was approved and, allegedly, controlled by the Kremlin.
He also held the job of Speaker of the Federation Council - the upper house of the Russian parliament - for almost 10 years. He lost his position in May 2011 as the result of a move by United Russia.
Mr Mironov's relations with Mr Putin changed after this. He has become openly critical of the latter, saying Mr Putin is not interested in reform and must go.
In his manifesto, Mr Mironov promises nationalisation of natural resources, social guarantees to pensioners and state-sector employees, and progressive taxation. He would like to be president for a transitional two-year period to carry out reform of the political system, he says.
He was born in 1953 in Pushkin, Leningrad Region. A geophysicist by profession, he spent much of his early career in expeditions to remote regions, including a five-year stint in Mongolia.
He is married to his third wife, Irina, and has children from previous marriages.
At 46, businessman Mikhail Dmitriyevich Prokhorov is the youngest candidate and at over two metres, he is also the tallest. According to Forbes magazine, he is Russia's third richest man. He is also the only independent candidate to survive the registration period.
Mr Prokhorov's personal charisma has won him many supporters, including among celebrities, but his main followers are young professionals and the emerging middle class.
He is unlikely, though, to win the election because of the difficulty of gathering support from ordinary Russians, who view oligarchs with disfavour.
Recent polls show that only about 3% of Russians would vote for Mr Prokhorov, but he is not discouraged.
He is confident there will be two rounds and that he, not "the old men from the Duma", will confront Vladimir Putin in the run-off.
Since he emerged on the political scene, Mr Prokhorov has had to fight widespread allegations of being a "Kremlin project" created to attract the votes of the discontented middle class. He described reports that he had decided to run for president after receiving a phone call from Mr Putin as "nonsense".
He has been careful not to challenge Mr Putin directly, saying he will not build his presidential campaign on criticism of him.
His manifesto proposes political reform, including cutting the presidential term and restoring direct elections of regional governors. He also promises to abolish conscription by 2015. Abroad, he would like close economic co-operation with the EU.
He has pledged to open the archives of the Communist era and to immortalise the victims of the Lenin-Stalin terror.
Mr Prokhorov has floated several names as possible prime ministers, if he should win, including former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, and jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Mr Prokhorov made his fortune - now estimated at $18bn (£11.5bn;13.7bn euros) - in the 1990s by buying Norilsk Nickel.
He is the owner of the Onexim Group investment fund, which is primarily interested in gold and nickel mining but also has holdings in finance, media and technology. Among his assets are the New Jersey Nets basketball team and the Russian-language magazine Snob.
Mikhail Prokhorov is widely recognised as Russia's most eligible bachelor, but has promised to get married if he wins the election.
BBC Monitoringselects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.