"The West's Next Provocation": How Russian propaganda discredits democratic protests

“The West’s Next Provocation”: How Russian propaganda discredits democratic protests

Photo: unsplash.com / Timur Kozmenko
8 May 2024
FacebookTwitterTelegram
657

For several weeks now, mass protests have been ongoing on the streets of Tbilisi and other cities in Georgia. The opposition and civil society demand that the ruling party, “Georgian Dream”, withdraw a controversial bill, “On the Transparency of Foreign Influence”, which they call an analog of the Russian law on “foreign agents”.

Protesters believe that the goals of the ruling party are blocking Georgia’s accession process to the EU and the elimination of democratic organizations. Against the backdrop of protests and attempts to suppress them, Kremlin propaganda has intensified, following a methodological approach that has been working for years to discredit any democratic protests, especially in former Soviet bloc countries. VoxCheck analyzes the similarity of Russian disinformation narratives during mass citizen demonstrations in countries that the Kremlin traditionally considers its “sphere of influence”.

Prevent a new “Color Revolution”

“The Color Revolution” — a nightmare for Vladimir Putin and a collective term for protests that took place in the so-called post-Soviet countries from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. This term refers to events where citizens, by the tens of thousands, took to the streets in peaceful protest. The goal was to change the political course. Typically, such rallies were organized by the opposition following the adoption of undemocratic decisions by the authorities or the falsification of election results. Mass protests led to the holding of repeat elections or, if the incumbent authorities still resisted free expression of will, to a change in the political leadership and subsequent new elections.

Then the most painful for the Kremlin were the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia in 2003 and the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine in 2004. Putin did not want to believe that the “younger brother” would dare to express his own public position independently, so he rushed to look for another culprit. He found it quickly — predictably in the form of the malicious “collective West”, which allegedly tried to prevent the new Eurasian integration of the “fraternal peoples” (read as “the restoration of the Soviet Union”). “There was a whole series of managed color revolutions. It is clear that people in those countries where these events took place were tired of tyranny, poverty, and lack of prospects. But these feelings were simply cynically exploited. These countries were imposed with standards that did not correspond to the image of their life, traditions, or culture,” — this is how the former KGB officer interpreted the events of the Arab Spring, adding that a similar scenario was implemented in Ukraine in 2004.

Since then, the term not only remained in use but also acquired derogatory connotations in the mouths of Putin and his propaganda machine. One reason is the fear that such revolutions will pull the “near abroad” of the Kremlin from its suffocating embrace, and another reason is also fear, but this time that the next color revolution will happen in Russia itself. “We see the tragic consequences of the so-called color revolutions, and we will do everything to prevent this from ever happening in Russia,” Putin emphasized, equating the people’s aspirations for self-determination and a better life to extremism, which, according to him, is being used in the modern world by clearly defined actors — the West led by the USA — as an instrument of reshaping spheres of influence. The supposedly orchestrated Revolution of Dignity by the West deeply embarrassed the dictator.

The term “color revolution” resurfaced again in 2020 in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan, and in 2022 during a series of social and political protests in Kazakhstan. Protesters demanded the resignation of the government and the removal of 81-year-old former president Nursultan Nazarbayev from his position as head of the Security Council, where he continued to influence important decisions for the country. Putin stated that within the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) countries, “color revolutions” would not be allowed, and in Kazakhstan, “Maidan technologies” were used. However, despite the efforts of Kazakh security forces and CSTO troops in the framework of an “anti-terrorist operation” against “armed gangs,” Nazarbayev lost his influence. In particular, the country’s parliament abolished Nazarbayev’s lifelong chairmanship in the Security Council and the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan, and the necessity to coordinate internal and external policy initiatives with him was eliminated.

And now we observe that propagandists also portray the protests in Georgia as the beginning of a “color revolution” that needs to be immediately suppressed.

Screenshot of a propaganda post

So, Russian propaganda presents the beating by the police of the leader of the largest opposition party in the country, Levan Khabaishvili of the “United National Movement,” as a Western insinuation, attempting to divert attention from the fact that security forces indeed carried out a brutal reprisal on protesters.

Kremlin propaganda in defense of Georgian “traditional values”

Another way of discrediting protesters associated with the so-called “harmful influence of the West” is promoting the idea that opposition representatives are supposedly promoting Western values in Georgia, such as same-sex marriages and “LGBT propaganda”. This narrative is directly taken from the Kremlin’s guidelines — “Moscow must defend ‘traditional family values’ from Western liberal propaganda”. Moreover, this thesis is one of many used by Putin to justify military aggression in Ukraine. To advance this narrative, separate Telegram channels are even created and promoted by Russian fake news authors.

Screenshots of propaganda posts

Propagandists portray representatives of the Georgian government, pushing for the adoption of the “foreign agents” law, as defenders of Georgia against revolutions and the destructive influence of the West. Supposedly, it is the non-governmental and media organizations funded by Western donors that carry these harmful values. It became even easier for them to promote this narrative after the Prime Minister of Georgia and the Mayor of Tbilisi repeated it during a rally.

Screenshot of a propaganda post

“The long arm” of the State Department

Moreover, the pro-Russian oligarch and leader of the ruling party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, from the rally podium, referred to the West as the “party of global war”, which allegedly clashed with Russia and Georgia in 2008 and now did the same with Ukraine. His words echo the well-known Kremlin rhetoric that NATO started the war in Ukraine, not Russia, which only defended the Russian-speaking population with its actions.

Therefore, according to the propagandists’ understanding, the parliament’s adoption of the bill “On the Transparency of Foreign Influence” in the second reading is a significant success and evidence that the Georgian government is currently withstanding the pressure from the West and the mass protests of the Georgian opposition.

Screenshots of propaganda posts

They also mentioned the perennial sponsor of “color revolutions” — the US State Department. The one that, according to the Kremlin’s conviction, orchestrated the Revolution of Dignity. In particular, Putin extensively discussed the State Department’s involvement in the 2014 revolution in his odious interview with Tucker Carlson in early February 2024. At that time, he claimed that the State Department spent a large sum of money — around $5 billion — on organizing “Maidan”. However, it turned out that these funds were actually the cumulative financing of democratic reforms in Ukraine since 1991, and similar projects were also implemented by the US regarding Russia, with even larger sums — around $18 billion.

The same narrative was heard in 2020 during protests in Belarus against the Lukashenko regime when pro-Kremlin blogger and publicist Sergey Mardan attempted to determine “where so many red-and-white flags [the symbol of the protesters] suddenly appeared in the retail trade of Belarus“. And the TASS news agency, citing the director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Naryshkin, wrote that CIA and Pentagon instructors affiliated with the State Department and American non-governmental organizations were involved in preparing the protests in Belarus. In Armenia, propagandists also perceive the influence of American and European funds and media, allegedly provoking anti-Russian sentiments. Propagandists even conduct “studies” to investigate which grants Americans use to interfere in the affairs of Armenia.

Screenshots of propaganda posts

“Do you want it to be like in Ukraine?”

The word “Maidan” in the usage of Russian propagandists has a sharply negative connotation, as they depict the Revolution of Dignity as a paid state coup and the cause of the war in Ukraine. It has reached the point where propaganda has begun to call “Maidan” any act of dissent against the Kremlin by civil society in bordering states with Russia.

For example, Lukashenko was blackmailed with the threat that if he did not stop “fraternize with Bandera followers”, he would not be allowed to evacuate to Russia in case of a “Maidan”. During the 2020 protests in Belarus, Ukraine’s scenario was used as intimidation. Allegedly, the protesters against Lukashenko’s regime wanted to bring to Belarus the troubles caused by the Ukrainian “Maidan”. Protesters were called neo-Nazis, ultras, and criminal elements, attempting to discredit any actions of civil society and show that the vast majority of the population actually did not support the protests of these marginal groups.

Now in Georgia, protesters against the “foreign agents” law are called with derogatory terms with puns around the word “Maidan” (“майданщики”, “майдауни”, “майдануті”).

Screenshot of a propaganda post

Another old and well-known nickname since the times of the Revolution of Dignity for protesters is “sorosiata”. Propagandists often accuse the funds of American financier and philanthropist George Soros of helping to organize revolutions, including the “Rose Revolution” of 2003. They primarily blame the Georgian branch of Soros’ funds, the Open Society Foundations, which covered the protests and appealed to the police structures to stop the violent dispersal of demonstrators. Propaganda attributes funding for protests in Belarus to the same funds.

Screenshot of a propaganda post

And finally, it did not go without threats of military intervention.

Screenshot of a propaganda post

Similar statements were made during the protests in Kazakhstan, when the country’s president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, unambiguously hinted that the CSTO troops had already fulfilled their purpose and it was time to withdraw them, and Russian television, following the lead of the Russian Ministry of Defense, expressed hope that they would stay there longer, “until the situation stabilizes completely”. Kazakhstan, like Ukraine and Georgia now, was portrayed as a failed state, meaning a country that has not developed and is unable to defend itself without “friendly” assistance from Russia. For example, Russian journalist and Moscow City Duma deputy Andrey Medvedev speculated: “If peacekeepers are needed to establish order, then all talks about an important regional player and a special Kazakh path can be stopped. This is not yet a full-fledged failed state, but close to it. So, after 30 years of shaking off imperial yokes, it turns out that order cannot be established without Russian soldiers? Well, okay. However, I repeat, I am not a supporter of our participation without guarantees of a change in Kazakhstan’s internal course. Yes, I’m talking about Russians and the Russian language. And about multi-vectorism. Any service must be paid for.

Screenshot of a propaganda post

So, propagandists, as well as the leadership of the Russian Federation, believe that they have every right to intervene in the affairs of the “near abroad”, including the deployment of their troops, and those countries should be grateful to them for restoring “stability”. For example, the Russian propagandist Anna Shafran fosters narratives of “chosenness” of Russians primarily within the domestic audience, suggesting that Russians should enlighten their Slavic brothers: Our next and fundamental mistake is that we have considered and somehow continue to consider neighboring ‘fraternal’ countries separately, rather than as legitimate territories of our influence, which is absolutely normal for strong and large states“.

Conclusions

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin’s enormous propaganda machine has been working to reassemble certain parts of it, particularly by preventing them from falling under “Western influence”. Part of the efforts of Russian propaganda is aimed at preventing any large-scale democratic protests and, if possible, preventing any free expression of civil societies near its borders at all. Any attempts to break away from the Kremlin’s orbit are declared a conspiracy by the West against Russia, and they seek to suppress them by intensifying propaganda narratives. We must be vigilant because, as experience shows, Russia employs similar narratives and methods of influence on all states that are unfortunate to share a border with it. As the experience of Georgia and Ukraine has shown, Russian propaganda is a full-fledged weapon of information warfare that creates a groundwork for further military aggression.

Authors

Attention

The author doesn`t work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations