The Russians who came to cast a protest ballot in Moscow on Sunday had little hope for political change, but took comfort from knowing they were not alone in opposing Vladimir Putin's hard-line rule.

Defying the threat of arrest, they formed unusually long queues outside polling stations on Sunday, heeding a call by late opposition leader Alexei Navalny to vote at midday.

The crowd paid hommage to Navalny, Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic, whose death in mysterious circumstances in an Arctic prison last month had left Russia's opposition disparaged.