Vladimir Putin triumphed in Russia"s presidential election on Sunday and, tears rolling down his cheeks, called his victory a turning point that had prevented the country falling into the hands of enemies.
Putin"s opponents complained of widespread fraud, refused to recognize the results and said they would press ahead on Monday with the biggest protests since he rose to power 12 years ago.
But the former KGB spy said he had won a "clean" victory and was on course to return to the Kremlin after four years as prime minister with almost 65 percent of votes, partial results showed.
"I promised you we would win. We have won. Glory to Russia," Putin, dressed in an anorak and flanked by outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev, told tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters at a late-evening victory rally under the red walls of the Kremlin.
Denouncing attempts to "destroy Russia"s statehood and usurp power," he said: "The Russian people have shown today that such scenarios will not succeed in our land ... They shall not pass!"
The crowd at one point chanted: "Putin! Putin! Putin!" Some danced to keep warm and drank vodka from plastic glasses, with empty bottles crunching underfoot.
It was a defiant and angry speech which left Putin, 59, on collision course with the mainly middle-class protesters in Moscow and other big cities who have staged huge rallies since a disputed parliamentary poll on December 4.
Two exit polls showed Putin with 58-59 percent of the votes and incomplete results showed him winning more than 64 percent.
The protest organizers, who see Putin as an autocratic leader whose return to power will stymie hope of economic and political reforms, said their demonstrations would now grow.