As Moscow tightened its grip around Grozny, the Chechen capital, the polls put the two parties that back Mr Putin in second and third places, with combined support seven percentage points above that of the opposition Communists, who are on 28 per cent.
In second place, with 24 per cent and after apparently sensational gains, was the Unity or "Bear" Party. The party was formed by the Kremlin two months ago to give Mr Putin, President Boris Yeltsin's chosen successor, a loyal contingent in the State Duma. In third place, with 11 per cent, was the pro-market Union of Rightist Forces, which has promised to back Mr Putin in next June's presidential race.
Yevgeny Kiselyov, host of the news programme Itogi, stressed that the exit polls were not as reliable as the preliminary official results, which will come in first from the Far East. Full results will only be available today. Mr Putin's fortunes have benefited dramatically from the war, and last night as his allies appeared to be heading for strong gains in the Duma he maintained his hard line. He said: "We do not have the right to leave an enclave of anarchy in Chechnya".
Yesterday as Russians went to the polls, tanks and infantry made probing attacks into Grozny. But they launched no all out assault on the city. Reporters in the city said they had seen the bodies of seven Russian soldiers killed in the fighting, one with his throat cut. Chechen fighters said that he was a sniper who had shot two of their men.Reuse content