Vladimir Putin’s annual ‘Direct Line’ question and answer show, occupying a whopping four hours of national television time, looks and feels a worthy exercise in democracy.
More than two million Russians sent in questions for the President via text, email and video – while a sizeable studio audience, who never seemed to need the toilet, posed additional queries.
Yet Mr Putin’s Q&A has very little to do with democratic accountability.
The whole thing is highly scripted affair – the President reeled off some Soviet-style economic statistics before dealing with a series of pre-screened questions about pot-holed roads, poor accommodation and oversized rubbish dumps.
He expressed surprise when a teacher from Irkutsk said she was getting paid 16,000 roubles a month (£219) and said he was disappointed to hear that the water was not fit to drink in a community near Lake Baikal.
“We’ll look into that,” he said on numerous occasions.
It felt a bit like a comfy chat show, designed to make people feel good about being Russian.
“We build the biggest icebreakers,” said Mr Putin, while acknowledging the Russian experience isn’t exactly problem-free.
There were unexpected moments of spontaneity however, when the on-screen ‘ticker’ started displaying off-message texts from viewers.
“Russia thinks you’ve spent too long on your throne,” said one. “Do you really think people are buying this circus with all these scripted questions?” said another.
The ticker disappeared for a while before returning later on, leaving viewers to puzzle over this highly discordant – if authentic – part of the show.
Unsurprisingly, there was only one question about the political opposition and Mr Putin managed to answer it without mentioning campaigner Alexei Navalny or his big anti-corruption protests earlier in the week.
“Some people use the difficulties we have for their own political PR,” he said obliquely.
A 20-year-old university graduate, Lucy Shteyn, thought that was absolutely typical of the President.
Ms Shteyn took a selfie in a police van after her arrest on Monday and the photo quickly went viral, earning her plaudits and insults in equal measure.
“I have experienced heavy bullying on social media because of it,” she told us. “People say, ‘why are you smiling on the bus? You should be crying’. But I am not ashamed.”
When Sky News asked her what she would ask Mr Putin at the marathon Q&A, she chuckled: “I’d ask him if he is going to leave and whether he feels guilty for what he is doing. But these questions don’t matter. He’d just blow them off.”
We also contacted scientist and activist Yulia Galiamina, who spoke to us from her hospital bed in Moscow.
She is being treated for injuries to her skull, face and body after participating in the anti-corruption demonstration.
“We made this chain but there were lots of riot police around us and at some point a riot policeman ran towards me and hit me in the teeth with his fist – right here,” she said. “I had the feeling I was in War and Peace.”
So, what would Ms Galiamina say to Mr Putin, if she ever gets the chance?
“I would say that it is time for Putin to go and [he should] organise fair elections. Without him around, it will be easier to reconstruct Russia into a free and law-abiding state.”
With a presidential election scheduled for next March, Mr Putin was asked at the Q&A if he will be around for next year’s instalment. He said it was “up to the people.” But his friends – and his foes – assume he will be there.
Additional reporting by Yulia James