Russia has over 80 registered political parties, but only 11 are competing in the election and even fewer look likely to win seats in parliament.
With Putin as its lead candidate, United Russia
looks set to win a landslide victory [EPA]
Under new electoral rules, parties need to win at least seven per cent of the vote, up from five per cent in previous years, to get into the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament.
The move effectively bars the weaker parties from parliament.
United Russia and the Communists are the only parties that seem certain to make the grade, while two other parties - A Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia - may just scrape over the threshold.
More western-oriented parties such as Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces look set to poll below the necessary seven per cent and Other Russia, led by Gary Kasparov, the former chess champion, was unable to register.
Backed by Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, polls show United Russia is set to win a landslide victory. Some recent opinion polls have suggested the party could win up to 80 per cent of the seats.
United Russia was founded in 2001. The party is led by Boris Gryzlov, an electrical engineer by training and Putin's former interior minister.
Gryzlov famously said the Duma, of which he is the speaker, was "not a place for discussion".
Putin is standing as United Russia's lead candidate and has said victory will give him a mandate to continue playing a role in politics, though it has not been made clear what this role will be after March, when the president is due to step down.
United Russia has been unclear about its policies and has refused to take part in TV debates.
Led by Gennady Zyuganov, a former maths teacher, the Communists represent the only substantial opposition to the dominance of United Russia and Putin.
In recent days, supporters of liberal and leftist parties are said to have flocked to the Communists as a result.
Often touting itself as successor to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, prohibited in 1991 under Boris Yeltsin, the then Russian president, the current party has abandoned much of Lenin's legacy and bears little resemblance to the original Communists.
The party is strongest in the rural areas of southern Russia, drawing its support from industrial workers, farmers and many older voters who remember the original Communists.
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LPDR)
Founded and led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a boisterous and populist opposition figure who once promised cheap underwear and free vodka to his voters, the party has a distinctly nationalist outlook.
Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB agent wanted by the UK in connection with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the ex-spy who died last year, is a newly appointed LPDR candidate.
A Just Russia
Created in October 2006 following the merger of three smaller parties - Party of Life, Motherland, and the Pensioners' Party - A Just Russia was set up by the Kremlin and has openly declared that it supports Putin.
The party is led by Sergey Mironov, currently the speaker of the Federation, Russia's upper house of parliament.