Thousands of Russians linked hands around Moscow today in a protest against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's expected return to the Kremlin for a third term in elections next weekend.

A din of endless honking descended on Moscow's 16km Garden Ring Road as drivers expressed support for the human chain of smiling and waving people who gathered in freezing snowy weather.

Police said at least 11,000 people braved the swirling snow at the event but organisers said 30,000 had turned out to deliver a message to Putin one week ahead of the presidential polls on 4 March.

Pedestrians of all ages, their coats adorned with the white ribbons that are the symbol of the anti-Putin movement, joined hands and raised their linked arms in celebration.

They formed a circular chain aimed at enclosing all of inner Moscow in scenes not witnessed since the days of the Soviet collapse.

One unbroken line of people stretched over the landmark Krymsky Bridge spanning the Moscow River.

The protest action echoes a historic human chain that the three tiny Baltic states organised in 1989 to demand their independence from the Soviet Union.

More than a million people were estimated to have taken part in a protest that was followed in the next two years by their declarations of independence and the Soviet system's collapse.

Footage of today's event made only a brief appearance on state-controlled television newscasts which focused mainly on a remote earthquake that injured no one in Siberia and a small pro-Putin action in Moscow.

Smaller anti-Putin demonstrations were reported in the Siberian cities of Tomsk and Kemerovo and parts of the Ural Mountains region.

Russia has witnessed more than a month of weekly rival rallies between Putin's foes and his state-backed supporters in advance of elections that the 59-year-old former KGB spy is almost certain to win.