A commission report supports Karenin’s political views, but a rival of Karenin’s proposes an extreme version of Karenin’s ideas, which turns people against Karenin. Karenin decides to go to the distant provinces to investigate the matter himself. On the way, he stops in Moscow, where Oblonsky and Dolly see him in the street. They invite him over for dinner. Karenin is awkward and abrupt throughout the interaction.
Karenin uses a political rivalry as an excuse to visit the provinces and thus escape from his uncomfortable domestic situation. When he runs into Oblonsky in the street, he is uncomfortable because he knows he cannot hide behind a polished veneer, since the Oblonskys know about Anna’s infidelity.