The “color revolutions” in the post-Soviet space were initially understood to mean the Rose Revolution in Georgia (2003), the Orange Revolution in Ukraine (2004) and Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan (2005). The one feature these events share is considered to be the non-violent nature of the regime change resulting from mass protests. The 2010 revolution in Kyrgyzstan may also be relegated to this group of cases: although the revolution was not entirely peaceful it nonetheless led to a change in the country’s lead-ership. Somewhat less clear are regime change attempts or mass protests, for example the situation in Andijan (Uzbekistan) in 2005 or the mass protests and riots in Moldova in 2009. It is still unclear whether the power shift in Ukraine in February 2014 should be considered a “color revolution;” there is also no precise definition of the concept of the “Arab spring,” which is usually thought to include the mass upheaval and protests, more often not peaceful, that led (or did not lead) to regime change in a number of countries of the Arab world starting in late 2010. Despite the lack of consensus among political leaders and experts regarding terminology, on the whole the terms “color revolutions” and “Arab spring” have caught on and as a rule are used without further explanation in Russian official discourse in the expert community and in the media.
The Russian attitude to the Arab Spring—a mixture of skepticism, caution and mis-trust—was for a long time poorly understood outside the country. In the West, which initially saw in the Arab Spring the familiar battle between “democracy from below” and “dictatorship from above,” many accused Moscow of sympathizing with outdated au-thoritarian regimes, even facilitating their behavior, and of being incapable of keeping up with the times.
Later, the situation changed. As democratic revolutions were replaced by civil con-flicts (some more peaceful, others more bloody, all exacerbated by ethnic or religious differences) Russia’s conservative position started to find support, both within the Mid-dle East and beyond. The breakthrough Russo-American agreement on Syrian chemical weapons opened the door to the Geneva II talks, bringing factions within Syria to the same talks table, and also helping regulate the Iranian nuclear issue.
To understand the factors that shaped the Russian attitude to the Arab Spring, we need to review recent Russian history and how the situation has changed Russia’s bor-ders. In this article, we will attempt to circumscribe these factors, and offer insights into their true nature.