Executive Intelligence Review
This article appears in the June 13, 2014 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.

Moscow Conference Identifies
'Color Revolutions' as War

by Tony Papert

[PDF version of this article]

June 7—The Russian and Belarusian military speakers at the May 23 Third Moscow Conference on International Security, spelled out in increasing detail how what they called "color revolutions," foreign-controlled attempts to overthrow governments under the initial cover of democracy promotion, are actually nothing but a new form of aggressive war. This yearly conference has been a venue for significant Russian policy statements, such as in 2012, when Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov made a detailed analysis of how NATO's BMD plans threaten to strip Russia of its defenses.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu opened this year's conference by reading a message from President Vladimir Putin, who was unable to be present, in which he explicitly attacked the "color revolutions." "It's time to stop playing geopolitical games," read the headline of the Voice of Russia report on the message. They then report the following remarks from the Russian President:

"The process of development of a new polycentric system of international relations is proceeding with difficulty and is accompanied by an increase in global instability. We have not been able to make considerable headway in the formation of a union space of peace, security and stability in Europe and the Atlantic."

"The situation in the Middle East and Northern Africa remains tense, and serious risks are associated with the situation in Afghanistan," the President said. "Obviously, modern challenges and threats make it necessary to stop the archaic logic of geopolitical games with a zero sum game, the attempts to force your own methods and values on other peoples, including by color revolutions."

Indeed, according to the reports available in the West, the major theme of the conference centered on the threat which so-called "color revolutions," like those that occurred in the Philippines, Georgia, Ukraine, and the like, represent to a stable international order, based on national sovereignties. Thanks to the Obama Administration-instigated boycott of Russia, there were few Americans attending the event, but two who did, have posted extensive notes, along with the PowerPoint slides shown. This report on the conference is based on these notes.

A View That Should Not Be Ignored

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) was so struck by the laser-like focus of the Russian and Belarusian military speakers at the conference that he posted 52 pages of his raw notes, with PowerPoints, to the CSIS site under the title, "Russia and the Color Revolution: A Russian Military View of a World Destabilized by the U.S. and the West (Key Briefs)."

He wrote,

"Key Russian officers and officials presented a view of the U.S. and the West as deliberately destabilizing nations in North Africa, the Middle East, and the rest of the world for their own ends. They describe such actions as having failed, and been a key source of terrorism. Cordesman indicated that they see the West as rejecting partnership with the Russia and as threatening Russia along all of its borders with Europe.

"Senior Russian officials are also using the term 'Color Revolution' in ways that are far more critical than in the past. For example, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has accused the United States and the European Union of an attempt to stage yet another color revolution in Ukraine, and said during the Conference that, 'Attempts to impose homemade recipes for internal changes on other nations, without taking into account their own traditions and national characteristics, to engage in the export of democracy, have a destructive impact on international relations and result in an increase of the number of hot spots on the world map.'

"What is critical is that the U.S. and Europe listen to what Russian military leaders and strategists are saying. These are not Russian views the U.S. and Europe can afford to ignore" (emphasis in original).

Defense Minister Shoigu

In his keynote address, Defense Minister Shoigu addressed the negative impact of color revolutions on international stability. The following summary was provided by Dmitry Gorenburg, a Russian military analyst at the CNA Corporation, a non-profit research organization that runs the Center for Naval Analyses and the Institute for Public Research.

Shoigu said that color revolutions were a new form of warfare invented by Western governments seeking to remove national governments in favor of ones that are controlled by the West, in order to force foreign values on a range of nations. He made the argument that the same scheme has been used in a wide range of cases, with the initial goal of changing the government through supposedly popular protests, shifting into efforts at destabilizing and fomenting internal conflict if the protesters are not successful. This scheme was used in Serbia, Libya, and Syria—all cases where political interference by the West transitioned into military action. Now the same scheme is being followed in Ukraine, where the situation in recent weeks has become a virtual civil war, and in Venezuela, where the so-called democratic opposition is actually organized by the United States.

Shoigu pointed out that the consequences of color revolutions are very different from the protest organizations' initial stated goals. The main result has been instability. The Arab Spring, for example, has destabilized the Middle East and North Africa. Now, a whole range of African states are near collapse because of the effects of events in Libya. Afghanistan is increasingly unstable, which has forced Russia to increase its military presence in Central Asia in order to contain threats coming from the south.

Others addressing this theme in detail included General Gerasimov, Belarusian Defense Minister Yuri Zhadobin, Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Secretary General Nikolai Bordyuzha, and Gen. Vladimir Zarudnitsky, head of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, who spoke on a panel on the Mideast and North Africa.

Chief of Staff Gerasimov

Gerasimov reiterated the idea that the United States has developed a new method of warfare, beginning with using non-military tactics to change opposing governments through color revolutions that utilize the protest potential of the population to engineer peaceful regime-change. The two graphics from his presentation that we reproduce here (Figures 1 and 2), give a good idea of his strategic argument about what the Western policy has done.

Gerasimov emphasized that military force is concealed behind the color revolutions. If the protest potential turns out to be insufficient, military force is then used openly to ensure regime change. Libya was cited as a textbook example. In Syria, the West is using mercenaries and military assistance in an effort to overthrow the government. What began as a purely internal conflict has turned into a battle between religious radicals and the government.

The following raw notes from Cordesman detail the flow of Gerasimov's argument.

  • The breakup of the former Soviet Union has led the U.S. to act as if it were the only superpower, and for its own ends using a mix of force and sanctions using its NATO allies.

  • The U.S. military interventions in Iraq in 1991, in Yugoslavia in 1999, in Afghanistan, and then again in Iraq in 2003 used pretexts to allow aggression that violated international norms and law.

  • Color revolutions have led to civil wars and threats to civilian populations that only make things worse, and leave major parts of the state under militant control, which become training areas for terrorists.

  • Afghanistan has seen more than 10 years of war, and a 30-fold increase in drug production. There has been no concern for the civilian population; drones have killed some 2,500 in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. Create revolutions so as to be able to use military forces.

  • Crises in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Georgia, Ukraine. Tensions in many other areas like Algeria and Mauritania.

  • Use transfers of arms, SOF (special operations forces), mercenaries, and foreign fighters.

  • Claim to protect civilians and deal with WMD, but use to change regimes and force support of the U.S. and NATO.

  • Syria sees influx of foreign troops, U.S. double standards. Use of SOF and weapons supplies, threat of military operations like cruise missiles, and constant use of information warfare.

  • The adaptive approach to Color Revolutions allows the U.S. and Europe to fight low cost wars at the expense of local populations.

  • Libya is a warning of the costs: terrorism, migration, fragmentation, suffering, spread of MANPADs to Mali, Tunisia, etc. Then [they] left Libyans to themselves without assuming any responsibility for order.

  • Russia favors collective action to bring stability and unity.

  • Ukraine is another case in point:

  • Pressed to change the regime;

  • Overturned the legitimate power;

  • Suppressed protests;

  • Operations by private military groups;

  • Use anti-government demonstrations;

  • Army used against the people;

  • Makes legitimate economic development impossible;

  • Increasing use of force;

  • Threaten European security;

  • NATO build-up in Baltic, Poland, areas near Russia;

  • Sanctions end European and Russian cooperation;

  • Entire region sees growth in mercenaries, terrorism, extremism, transnational crime;

  • All in the guise of a Color Revolution.

Military Threat Integral to Color Revolutions

According to Cordesman's notes, Belarusian Defense Minister Zhadobin "mentioned Gene Sharp as the originator of the strategy used in these revolutions," thus bringing in the British hand behind the policy, as EIR has documented (see article by Rachel Douglas in this section). Zhadobin also noted that color revolutions are always set up from outside. In the three PowerPoint slides (Figures 3, 4, and 5) we republish from his address, his central point is clear.

But the speaker who delved into the most detail on the color revolution strategy appears to have been General Zarudnitsky, head of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff. This is Gorenburg's summary of Zarudnitsky's talk:

"Like the plenary speakers, Zarudnitsky focused on the military aspects of colored revolutions. He argued that while the West considers colored revolutions to be a peaceful way of overthrowing undemocratic regimes, events in the Middle East and North Africa have shown that military force is an integral part of all aspects of colored revolutions. This includes external pressure on the regime in question to prevent the use of force to restore order, the provision of military and economic assistance to rebel forces, and if these measures are not sufficient, the conduct of a military operation to defeat government forces and allow the rebels to take power. Colored revolutions are thus a new technique of aggression pioneered by the United States and geared toward destroying a state from within by dividing its population. The advantage of this technique is that it requires a relatively low expenditure of resources to achieve its goals.

"Zarudnitsky argues that since this type of warfare is based on the network principle, it has no front line. It is used primarily in urban areas, frequently using civilians as shields. Commonly accepted rules of warfare are ignored, since official state-run armed forces are not used. Instead, criminal and terrorist forces and private military companies are allowed to act with impunity. Counter-guerrilla warfare tactics are required to defeat this type of warfare.

"The key question for military planners is which state will be targeted next. Weak states with poor economies are generally the most vulnerable to these tactics, but the main factor in determining targets is the geopolitical interest of the provoking state. For this reason, such revolutions are organized primarily in countries with significant natural resources or ones that have an important strategic position and conduct an independent foreign policy. The destabilization of such countries allows for a major shift in the balance of power in a particular region (in the case of the Arab Spring—the Middle East and North Africa)."

Cordesman's more inclusive account adds the following points from Zarudnitsky:

The Color Revolution is:

  • Delegitimizing war

  • Urban areas are targets

  • Use of human shields

  • Goes beyond boundaries of humanitarian behavior and international law

  • Criminalizing war

  • Seizes and uses religious values as weapons

  • Use private military units, SOF disguised as rebels: forces like Blackwater

  • The most disgusting medieval methods of violence.

Coming to a Head

The Russian leadership's understanding that the irregular warfare, or color revolutions, being instigated in the nations around it, are an undeclared war against it, has been evident at least as far back as 2011, when, in the aftermath of the Libyan war, the subversive apparatus of several hundred NGOs in Russia, championed by U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul, moved, after the Dec. 4, 2011 parliamentary election, to try to prevent Prime Minister Putin from being elected President in May 2012.

On Dec. 8, 2011, Putin spoke to his National People's Front, declaring that the U.S.A. had invested "hundreds of millions of dollars" to shape the Russian electoral process. "We must develop forms of protecting our sovereignty, protecting ourselves from outside interference," he said. Subsequently, Russia passed laws requiring rigorous registration of NGOs operating in Russia as agents of the foreign organizations supporting them. The U.S. has had exactly the same law since 1938, according to Putin.

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