Supporters gather in Russian cities to back Putin opponent Alexei Navalny's presidential bid

Officials have claimed Alexei Navalny is not eligible to run, but he has insisted he intends to contest the March election

Supporters gather in Russian cities to back Putin opponent Alexei Navalny's presidential bid

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny gestures while speaking during his supporters' meeting that nominated him for the presidential election race in Moscow, Russia. Picture by: Pavel Golovkin/AP/Press Association Images

A Russian opposition politician has insisted he has enough nominations to challenge Vladimir Putin in next year's presidential election - despite officials claiming he is not eligible.

Supporters of Alexei Navalny gathered in 20 cities today, gaining the hundreds of signatures necessary to initiate the 41-year-old politician's election bid.

Mr Navalny is a long-time opponent of corruption in Russia and one of the most high-profile critics of the current Russian president.

Reuters reports that the country's central election commission now needs to confirm the nomination - but they have previously claimed he is ineligible due to a previous suspended prison sentence.

Mr Navalny and supporters have argued his sentence was politically motivated.

He has also been arrested & jailed on several occasions for organising demonstrations & protests.

On Twitter, Mr Navalny called on authorities to include him on the ballot.

In a statement, he said: "We are campaigning all over the country. We rely on people all over the country. Together we will win across the country.

"We are real. Without us, elections are not elections."

Vladimir Putin has already expressed his intention to run for a fourth term.

Mr Putin was first elected as president in 2000, serving two four-year terms (the length has since been increased to six years per term).

Presidential term restrictions meant Mr Putin could not run for a third consecutive term, but he was again elected to the office in 2012 following another stint as the country's prime minister.

Despite facing high-profile opposition both at home & internationally, Mr Putin retains a high popularity rating in Russia and is expected to secure a fourth term in March 2018.

TV star and socialite Ksenia Sobchak is also set to contest the election.