THEY are the elections which prove local politics can have global impact.
On Sunday, from the Arctic to the Black Sea and from the Baltic to the Pacific, tens of millions of Russians will go the polls. 
They are, at least in theory, choosing regional and local councillors. In reality, their options are limited, with candidates offering real change often excluded from ballot papers.
So Sunday's elections are not just about who Russians vote for. They are about who they cannot vote for. And the world - and the Kremlin of Vladimir Putin - will be watching to see whether they put up with this. And no more so than in Moscow.
Since mid July pro-democracy protesters have taken to the street angry at the decision to disqualify opposition candidates from running for the city council, or Duma. 
True, the numbers have dropped in recent weeks. On 31 August several thousand marched on the capital – a far cry from the 60,000 that rallied on 10 August. Some of the protests ended with mass arrests. The Kremlin will be hoping the momentum has faded for good. Yet the protests are a symptom of wider frustrations that will outlast Sunday’s election. 
What started as anger over an insignificant council vote quickly evolved into something not about candidates but about accountability, state power, and – 20 years on from first becoming leader – the health of President Vladimir Putin’s regime. 
The protests will have come as a surprise to the Kremlin. The summer is a quiet time in the capital and the city council elections rarely raise an eyebrow. The 45-seat assembly is mostly decorative and has little political power. That sits in the hands of Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who, along with the ruling United Russia party, sought to make the elections as uneventful as possible. The hope was for a repeat of 2014 – low turnout, little interest, no fuss. 

READ MORE: Russian police arrest 1,000 in mass protest over Moscow election

Things didn’t go to plan. Over the summer government-friendly candidates barely campaigned as a host of opposition figures, including those linked with Mr Putin’s arch-enemy Alexei Navalny, collected the thousands of necessary signatures required to run.  In a moment of blatant political engineering the electoral commission then found these signatures to be invalid. High-profile opposition figures called on the capital’s population to respond. The result has been some of the largest protests in Russia since 2012 and some of the worst police violence in years. The Kremlin has a history of using carrots and sticks to send messages. In this case it has been a reminder of the coercive and political power that remains in the hands of the regime. 
After all, it would have been much easier to allow opposition candidates to simply run for a token victory on an insignificant council. But Moscow has decided it wants total control over the process. From the paranoid halls of the Kremlin, that is understandable. It sees the city Duma vote as not about local issues but as a platform for opposition activism leading up to the 2021 parliamentary and 2024 presidential elections. 
Symbolism worries Moscow. Candidates linked with Mr Putin’s United Russia party are standing as independents to avoid even the appearance of unpopularity. After the dust settles, how significant will these protests have been? Taken on their own, not so much. Few will have taken any notice outside Moscow. Indeed, there has been no official opposition running them. 
Some of the biggest rallies went ahead despite influential activists being detained. While this loose coalition has allowed for spontaneous organisation it has also stymied the development of a long term political strategy. Without one it is unclear what form the protest movement will take after the council elections are over. 
The protests in Moscow have not happened in isolation, however. They are part of what is a rise in civic action across the country, spurred on by growing frustrations amongst ordinary Russians over a range of issues like pension reform and internet freedoms. 

READ MORE: Pictures: Hundreds more arrested in Russian pro-democracy protests

Local activism, often apolitical and targeting everything from environmental damage and corruption to false arrest, is becoming more common too. The events triggering these protests vary but those taking part share an anger at ineffective governance and a hope of better representation. None of this means the regime is facing an imminent crisis, particularly in the short term. Mr Putin’s popularity may have dropped but it remains stable, hovering around 66 per cent. The economy is sluggish but resilient with currency reserves at a record high. The president’s grip on power certainly isn’t in danger. If it were, it would likely come from inside the Kremlin rather than from the street.
In the long term though, this rise in civic action shows that everything is not so rosy for Moscow. For all its thuggery and kleptocracy, it is a regime that still relies on legitimacy derived from the population. Mr Putin’s popularity is a complex mix of genuine loyalty and apathy. 
The support of millions of ordinary Russians – especially outside major cities – is essential. But this support is not guaranteed. “ While many will have lived through the early 2000’s boom, and be thankful for it, consecutive years of declining incomes means that a sluggish but resilient economy simply isn’t good enough. Especially when there is no quick economic fix for stagnation and promises of a brighter future continue to ring hollow