Can be read here --> http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n01/stephen-holmes/fragments-of-a-defunct-state
While I certainly can't say that I know enough to commit on the particulars of Russia to vouch for the accuracy of the article (that line about Russia being the most unequal in its history seems off considering, well, Russia's history), I do think it does have something more general to say about the way states are popularly imagined to run and operate versus the reality of that. I say this in consideration of the Arab Spring which was interesting in the way that at least in Egypt and Tunisia, a supposedly entrenched old order disappeared without even that a big of a fight.
Peeking into the FSB’s cabinet of cloaks and daggers, Harding discovers hapless spooks who seem to have strayed off the set of a Cold War play that, unknown to them, was mothballed two decades ago. They certainly aren’t on a mission to preserve the Kremlin’s domination of the country: they have simply inherited ‘tradecraft’ and have no clue what else to do.
Certainly no one can claim that vybori bez vybora (‘elections without a choice’) are meant to simulate democracy. Russians citizens know perfectly well that periodic electoral rituals give them no leverage over their rulers. So what do fraudulent elections achieve? In Russia (but not only in Russia), potential rulers don’t necessarily accede to power because they are popular. Some of the time, at least, rulers become fleetingly popular because they are believed to wield power. From the predictable tendency of opportunistic citizens to flock obsequiously to the power-wielders of the day it follows that an incumbent who seems to be losing power may see his poll-tested ‘popularity’ vanish overnight.
By erecting a neo-Soviet façade, meaningless elections and all, Putin’s team may have been trying to elicit support for rulers who have otherwise shown themselves unwilling to put the country’s wealth to public use rather than into their own pockets. The regime has valued ‘managed democracy’ not because it simulates democracy but because it simulates management, something the regime otherwise has a hard time displaying