This article first appeared onFinancial Times, June 17th
After hearing the news of the outbreak of the 1848 Paris revolution, Nicolas I is said to have rushed to the palace to interrupt the dancing and give the counter-revolutionary command: “On horses! To Paris!”
Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin is in a similar mood. When protesters in the small, strategically insignificant Balkan state of Macedonia, outraged at revelations of corruption and the abuse of power, last month besieged a government building and demanded the resignation of the government, the Russian minister of foreign affairs raced to denounce Skopje’s colour revolution in the making.
Why? A clue lies in Sergei Lavrov’s appearance before the UN General Assembly this year, when the Russian foreign minister asked for a declaration “on the inadmissibility of interference into domestic affairs of sovereign states and the non-recognition of coups d’état as a method for changing governments”. Moscow, once the combative centre of world communist revolution, has become the world’s pre-eminent defender of sitting governments against their restless citizens.
Western politicians imagine the Kremlin’s anxiety about colour revolutions is rhetorical, not real. But Mr Putin and his colleagues believe what they say: that street protests are stage-managed by Russia’s bitterest enemies. In the words of Mr Lavrov: “It is hard to resist the impression that the goal of various ‘colour revolutions’ and other efforts to topple unsuitable regimes is to provoke chaos and instability.”