Russia and public opinion

I’ve been starting to think about bigger themes related to the Russian parliamentary elections, so hopefully a longer post to follow. Right now I just wanted to suggest that this

Opposition groups in Russia have vowed to continue holding unsanctioned demonstrations to protest the results of the December 4 parliamentary elections despite the detention of some 560 protesters in Moscow and another 250 in St. Petersburg less than 24 hours ago.

may have something to do with the (for me) curious question of why the leadership of a fairly authoritarian state ever bothers to appeal to the public–through rhetoric about caring for families and pensioners, through policies to provide housing subsidies, and so on.

As a political leader who has routinely justified the ruling party’s seizure of power on grounds of stability and order, would you really want your citizens and visiting foreigners seeing this on the central street of a major city (here, St. Petersburg)?

Woman surrounded by demonstrators flips off police

Elections do seem to matter, even when the outcome is essentially preordained. The question is, how do they matter, and why?

ETA: Shortly after I posted this, @KermlinRussia sent this marvelous tweet:

KermlinRussia Пeрзидент Роисси
Московская мэрия не стала DDos’ить Площадь Революции.

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