Russia is gearing up for an ideological battle with the West, using its post-Soviet security apparatus to counter the threat of "color revolutions" around its borders.
The Russia-led political-military bloc the Collective Security Treaty Organization recently held a roundtable in Minsk on countering "color revolutions," the motley collection of recent popular uprisings that, in the Kremlin's mind (or perhaps only its propaganda), are orchestrated by the U.S. and include such disparate revolutions as Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Tunisia, and Syria. "All so-called 'color revolutions' are carefully prepared in advance by the creation and training of 'leaders' and special groups capable of organizing protest actions of the population aimed at creating informational-psychological pressure on the government," said CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Bordyuzha at the event. And he called for the "collective response using the CSTO" to combat those threats in CSTO countries (which, in addition to Russia, include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan).
The CSTO has been making those sorts of statements for a while, but the events in Ukraine seem to have sharpened its focus on color revolutions. Bordyuzha, however, has been fairly vague about what, exactly, the CSTO could do about the issue. Аn analysis was published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta making some more concrete suggestions about what the CSTO and Russia could do. One of its suggestions was to work with the press, and the fact that it came out the same day as the Minsk roundtable suggested that the article may itself be part of the strategy.
The author, Aleksandr Bartosh, is more explicit than Bordyuzha can be about who, exactly, are organizing these color revolutions:
The coordinated and deliberate activity of our geopolitical enemies, above all the U.S. and NATO, is a powerful source of challenges, risks, dangers, and threats of a nonmilitary character for Russia and its allies in the CIS and CSTO. This activity in the post-Soviet space includes a complex of information-psychological operations for the deformation of the consciousness and national-cultural identity of the population, incitement into a dead-end way of development, and creation of a network of agents. As the events in Ukraine show, the goal of such actions is the violation of the subjectivity of development, strengthening of the confrontational spiral, replacement of the government elites and support of the opposition, ready to act in the framework of models of external rule.
It's a remarkable framing of the issue. If you want to see a "complex of information-psychological operations" aimed at shaping "national-cultural identity of the population" to the end of organizing "opposition" to implement "external rule," Russia is conducting a master class right now in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. While U.S. democracy promotion organizations certainly nudged along some of the color revolutions (notably Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine), if they could pull things off as effectively as Russia has done in Ukraine, the world would look very different today. And yet, the defensiveness and circling of the wagons in Russia's approach to Ukraine generally is mirrored in this proposed CSTO strategy more specifically: it's exclusively defensive, seeking only to preserve the current order around its borders rather than to export it further afield: "NATO continues to actively work in the Caucasus and Central Asia, not simply ignoring the fact of the CSTO's existence, but also often circumventing Russia and the political elites of CSTO member countries... The increase in capability of the CSTO to counter threats of a nonmilitary character will add stability to the 21st century world order, decrease threats of large-scale war, and enable the preservation of Russia and the CIS countries in the framework of a united identity of Eurasian civilization."
Specifically, Bartosh calls for upping the CSTO's "public diplomacy" efforts:
In the framework of countering nonmilitary threats the CSTO needs to create its own system of public diplomacy, one of the tasks of which should be to form a positive image of the CSTO on the national and international level....
In this respect, the explanation of the national policy in the sphere of defense and security, as well as the role belonging to each country in the CSTO, should be the prerogative of the government of the corresponding governments. Each country should independently choose the methods of information and allocate the necessary resources. The goal: to ensure the public's understanding of the policies of the country and its role and place in the CSTO.
Bartosh isn't alone in his analysis: Editor-in-chief of the website Vestnik Kavkaza comes to a similar conclusion:
The situation is Ukraine is a result of the work on making people sincerely believe that by supporting the Maidan they support democratic legitimate power... To prevent repetition of the situation in other parts of the post-Soviet space, we should extend the notion of security. The CSTO responds to foreign risks, while a big part of threats and challenges comes from inside under financial and administrative support of foreign forces. We should consider the facts in establishing of a full-scale system of Eurasian security.
And intriguingly, China also recently weighed in on the color revolution threat and proposed that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a China-led group also including Russia and most of Central Asia, do more about it: "External forces are using the social-economic contradictions and problems ... to overthrow the authorities and are trying to provoke a new wave of color revolutions," said Chinese Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun, at an SCO meeting in Dushanbe. "This is a serious threat to the sovereignty and security of countries in the region and is a shared concern of the SCO member states." While color revolutions have been on the agenda of the CSTO for some time, they have not been much under discussion in the SCO, which tends to focus more on Beijing-centric bogeymen like "splittists." So perhaps this is a new focus, or perhaps its a rhetorical bone thrown to Moscow.
In any case, if Russia and the CSTO are going to start publicly elaborating a "united identity of Eurasian civilization," that's going to be pretty interesting.