Governing party candidates ahead in Russia local elections

Polls closed on Sunday in local elections across Russia and vote counting is now underway. Candidates from the ruling party are reportedly leading in many parts of the country.

Moscow's mayor and governors of 20 regions are up for election.

State-run media say incumbent Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, one of President Vladimir Putin's close aides, is certain to win. They report that candidates from the ruling United Russia party are leading in most regions.

Russia is also staging what it calls "elections" in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine, and the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions in the south. Russia unilaterally annexed the four regions last September.

Russia's Central Election Commission says the ruling United Russia party has won more than 70 to 80 percent of the votes so far in each of the annexed regions.

Ukraine is fiercely protesting the polls in the Russian-occupied regions and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described them as "sham elections."

The Putin administration is expected to assert that the election results are fair in an effort to tighten its grip over the areas.