Abstract. The “color revolution” as a low-cost, high-return way to replace a government has become the main means of the US to overthrow unwanted regimes. In recent years, as the US has intensified its efforts to contain Russia and China, it has tried to plan color revolutions near and within our countries. Color revolutions not only undermine the balance of the international system and regional security, but also seriously affect the stability of national power and economic development. In this regard, Russia and China need to work together to prevent color revolutions. In response to changes in their methods – from nonviolent to violent, the emergence of better organizational methods, the lowering of the age of participants – China and Russia should strengthen political, economic, cultural, ideological, educational, and regional cooperation, and strengthen the exchange of experience between themselves and with other countries in the region to jointly create a barrier against color revolutions and protect regional security and stability.
The term “color revolution” originally referred to processes of regime change in the CIS countries since the beginning of the 21st century. In countries where a color revolution took place, the domestic opposition, with the support of Western countries, often used colors, patterns, or clothing of a certain color as a symbol of the start of demonstrations and protests against the government aimed at forcing state leaders to step down. Such events have been called color revolutions by the academic community. In recent years, this term is no longer limited to the CIS countries. Color revolutions have been observed in other parts of the world, such as the crisis in Venezuela, the crisis in Syria, etc. Against the backdrop of efforts to contain and suppress Russia and China, special attention is being paid to the fact that Western countries are willing to plan color revolutions in our countries. At present, color revolutions in peripheral areas of Russia and China are only a “warm-up before the game”; the ultimate goal of the US and other Western countries is Russia and China.1 In this regard, the countries need to jointly fight color revolution activities directed against us.
The Need to Fight Color Revolutions
In recent years, as the United States and other Western countries have intensified their interference in the domestic affairs of Russia and China, the latter have faced an increasingly serious threat of color revolutions. Thus, cooperation between the two countries in countering color revolutions has become almost inevitable.
Russia and China are key targets of color revolutions conducted by the United States and other Western countries. Due to China’s rapid economic growth, the US is facing a major challenge and is doing all it can to contain the rapidly developing country. The US has declared its return to the Asia-Pacific region.2 Officially, it wants to strengthen ties with China in the Asia-Pacific region, but in reality it is trying to strengthen its influence in the region. In accordance with the strategy of external restraint, the US and other Western countries have entered into cooperation with separatist forces inside and outside China in order to provoke domestic problems and thus try to divide China from within by a color revolution. The influence of Western countries can be traced to activities to achieve Xinjiang independence and Tibetan independence, as well as to the Occupy Central (‘占中’ 运动) movement (2014) and especially to the protests against the extradition bill (例风波) in Hong Kong.3 During the protests, representatives from the US and other Western countries infiltrated all areas of public life, inciting the population and directing subversive actions.4 From the time the amendment was passed, the US government continually pressured the Hong Kong government. When the situation escalated, they used their NGOs to lead militant groups and opposition demonstrations. Finally, when the demonstrations turned violent, the United States teamed up with Western countries to protect the protesters. In fact, the protests against the extradition bill are an extension of the Occupy Central movement. Both movements revealed the intentions of certain forces in Hong Kong, together with Western countries, to separate the area from China.5
Thus, the US has intensified its efforts to carry out a color revolution in China in recent years. “As Chinese Chairman Xi Jinping put it, ‘As long as we adhere to the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the socialist system, the plans of hostile forces to westernize and divide us will not change. The closer we get to the goal of national renaissance and to the center of the world stage, the more hostile forces will seek ways to attack and discredit China’s ways, theories, institutions and culture, strengthen the ideological penetration and penetration of their values, and intensify efforts to plan a color revolution.’ “6 It can be predicted that forces inside and outside Hong Kong may attempt to disrupt the social order in Hong Kong in other ways in the future in order to achieve their ultimate goal of separating it from China.7
Countering color revolutions is also relevant for Russia. In recent years, Russia has seen several large-scale demonstrations against the president and the government. Although some of the demonstrators were expressing some legitimate demands of the people, the US would like to use social problems in Russia to deliberately stir up controversy between the people and their government. Judging by demonstrations in Moscow in 2019 and in many places in Russia in early 2021, it is clear that the US has stepped up its efforts to plan a color revolution. The US Embassy in Russia, in anticipation of an illegal demonstration in Moscow in early August 2019, published a detailed map of rally routes and then updated the map in real time during the march itself. Although US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman justified the action as a means to ensure the safety of American citizens, the true intentions of the US were obvious.8 The US Embassy used this technique again in January 2021, when protests in support of arrested opposition leader Alexey Navalny were held throughout Russia. The US actions show that its efforts to plan a color revolution in Russia are constantly increasing.
An arc of color revolutions has been formed on the periphery of China and Russia. As a result of years of US efforts, an arc of color revolutions connecting Eastern Europe, and Central, Western, and Southeast Asia has gradually taken shape. Most of the countries along this arc have experienced color revolutions. In some, they succeeded. Under the banner of nonviolence and liberal democracy, the US promoted their emergence in order to encircle Russia and China.
The US is trying with all its might to penetrate into the CIS countries that are within Russia’s sphere of influence. Of the 15 countries that became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union, only the Baltic states have not experienced color revolutions.9 Among the countries where they have been successful, Ukraine and Georgia have established pro-Western regimes, becoming pawns in the hands of the US to fight and contain Russia in the region. In Southeast Asia in 2007, the US took advantage of popular discontent with the military government in Myanmar and planned and carried out a “saffron revolution,” overthrowing the military government in power.10 Cambodia also experienced a color revolution, but the decisive actions of the government in power at the time protected the legitimate regime from subversion.
The main goal of the US is to make these countries a springboard for the direct implementation of color revolutions in Russia and China and further weaken their influence in the aforementioned regions. Now this arc has formed and is constantly shrinking, increasing pressure on Russia and China and forcing them to take measures to prevent color revolutions.
Color revolutions have now undergone changes that pose many problems for their prevention and containment in Russia and China. In recent years, there has been a shift from the traditional nonviolent method to a violent method of color revolutions.11 The most obvious example of this is the protests against the 2019 extradition bill in Hong Kong. Protesters occupied universities under the guise of peaceful demonstrations but used educational institutions as strongholds to disrupt city transportation, violently attacked innocent citizens, and even used homemade weapons to confront police.
The means of organizing color revolutions are also becoming more sophisticated. The rapid development and application of network technologies has given demonstrators new possibilities. They no longer rely on traditional means of organizing and propaganda, but use online media to organize demonstrations in more covert ways.12 During demonstrations, organizers can use the Internet to publish information about changes to the real situation, which creates great difficulties for the government and law-enforcement agencies in preventing events from developing in an undesirable direction and in restoring public order.
In addition, demonstrators are getting younger. Compared to traditional color revolutions, the age of the participants has been decreasing in recent years, with students becoming the main driving force. The Occupy Central movement and the protests against the extradition bill in Hong Kong involved a large number of high school and even middle school students. Minors also participated in demonstrations in support of arrested opposition leaders in Russia in early 2021. Compared to other groups, young people, mostly students, are more likely to be manipulated and brainwashed, to engage in extremist behavior, and to be aligned with foreign forces and domestic opposition organizations. Young people’s participation in demonstrations put a lot of pressure on the government.
Finally, the manifestations of color revolutions have changed. Since their negative consequences have become widely known to the world, today’s color revolution is not called a revolution directly, but rather a political crisis. For example, the crisis in Ukraine in 2014, the political crisis in Venezuela in 2019, and the crisis in Belarus in 2020. All this makes color revolutions more covert and disguised, and makes them more difficult to prevent.
The Biden administration is very likely to seek to carry out color revolutions against Russia and China. The US has long wanted to create a unipolar system in which it is assigned the role of a dominant force. The unipolar world model that emerged after the cold war is becoming more and more influenced by the trend toward multipolarity as we enter the 21st century. In order to maintain the system of world hegemony, on the one hand, the US resorts to the use of military force to maintain and expand its sphere of influence, on the other hand, it actively promotes color revolutions against current governments that do not suit their interests. George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump all carried out the mission of promoting American democracy around the world, which has become an important element of US foreign policy.
In 2021, the Biden administration will remain focused on containing Russia and China13 and preserving US hegemony. Color revolutions will undoubtedly become a priority in this strategy. Previous US administrations have used color revolutions and military means as the main way to promote “democracy” and maintain American hegemony in the world. But color revolutions are not only less expensive, but also more effective than military means.14 Compared to the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on war, planning a color revolution can sometimes cost only millions of dollars and at the same time be extraordinarily effective.15
Thus, the possibility of color revolutions against Russia and China on the part of Biden, who adheres to traditional American foreign policy, is obvious. Given the multiplicative effect of color revolutions, this possibility undoubtedly increases significantly, requiring increased vigilance on the part of Russia and China.
The Dangers of a Color Revolution
Color revolutions appear to be a peaceful seizure of power, but in fact cause great harm, not only upsetting the balance of the international system, but also aggravating regional chaos and posing great threats to regional stability. Countries that have experienced a color revolution have not only failed to take the desired path of democratic development and prosperity, but have also found themselves facing national political chaos and economic depression.
I. At the Level of the International System
The frequent occurrence of color revolutions upsets the balance of the international system and intensifies competition among the great powers, particularly the US with Russia and China. US plans for color revolutions against Russia and China directly challenge the two countries’ efforts to preserve national sovereignty and territorial integrity. This encourages countries to take a tougher stance toward the US, worsening relations with them, which already lack positive interaction.
Faced with the aggressive stance of the US in Central Asia and other regions, Moscow has been forced to adjust its policy toward Washington in order to protect its national interests. The same is happening in China. The US is planning color revolutions in Southeast Asia with the aim of weakening China’s influence there. In order to protect its legitimate interests abroad, China has had to enter into a game with the US in the Southeast Asian region. The competition initiated by the US is clearly unfriendly, aggressive, and disorderly, which will further deepen the confrontation and hostility between Russia and China, on the one hand, and the US, on the other.
Russia, China, and the US, as major powers, are key to the smooth functioning of the modern international system. Fluctuations in relations between them directly affect the balance of this system and pose great hidden threats to international strategic security.
II. At the Regional Level
Color revolutions have a domino effect in the region, triggering a backlash from other countries and threatening regional stability. Mass protests erupted in Belarus and Mongolia the day after the successful 2005 “tulip revolution” in Kyrgyzstan, and opposition parties in Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan began planning campaigns to fight for power.16 Against this backdrop, the US and other Western countries used the opportunity to support opposition parties and expand their penetration into Central Asia. With their help, the opposition increased pressure on the authorities, which led to political turmoil within these countries and seriously threatened the stability of Central Asia.
In addition, color revolutions intensified the forces of the “three evils” in Central Asia.17 Political instability has forced the governments of these countries to focus on fighting the opposition’s seizure of power and to reduce attention to other issues, which has led to the emergence of long-standing social, ethnic, and religious tensions and has become a catalyst for the activation of the “three forces of evil” in Central Asia.18 Even more alarming is the fact that the “three forces” are not only damaging the countries of Central Asia, but are also spreading to neighboring Russia and China, posing a serious threat to their security.
The series of color revolutions in the CIS countries further weakened Russia’s influence. Since most of the color revolutions were planned, led, and supported by foreign forces, the countries where color revolutions succeeded mostly started to pursue a foreign policy of turning to the West. The most typical examples are Ukraine and Georgia, which formed pro-Western governments and did not hesitate to speak out against Russia. Thus, Ukraine not only took the leading role in the formation of the “Commonwealth of Democratic Choice,” with obvious anti-Russian trends,19 but also several times expressed its desire to join NATO and the European Union. The weakening of Russia’s influence in the CIS negatively affected its strategic interests in the region.
III. At the National Level
The damage that color revolutions do to a country is multifaceted. First, they lead to political upheaval and unrest. For example, Georgia failed to improve its domestic political situation after the “rose revolution.” When Saakashvili came to power, he failed to focus on governance and improving people’s lives. Instead, he usurped power,20 which caused repeated mass protests leading to his resignation. In turn, Kyrgyzstan, after the “tulip revolution,” has failed to achieve regime stability; the principle of “all elections must be chaotic” still prevails in the domestic political arena; the political situation is gripped by cyclical unrest, seriously impeding national development.21
Second, a color revolution leads to poverty, economic decline, and hardship in people’s lives. Whether it is the domestic opposition that initiated the color revolution or foreign forces, they are only concerned with seizing power, and the development of the country is obviously not among their goals. Therefore, after the opposition comes to power, the national economy often begins to suffer, and the standard of living of the population often begins to decline.22 Ukraine can be called a classic negative example of a color revolution. For two or three years before the “orange revolution,” the Ukrainian economy was growing rapidly with an average annual growth rate of more than 12%.23 However, in the five years after the revolution, the Ukrainian economy did not grow, but rather contracted by 15%, the currency depreciated, the inflation rate far exceeded the average for CIS countries, and the standard of living of the population fell significantly.24 Ukraine’s fall from the most promising country in the CIS to one of the poorest countries in Europe shows the depth of the negative impact of color revolutions.
Finally, color revolutions aggravate domestic tensions. Among the countries that have experienced a color revolution are Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which proclaimed independence, and Kyrgyzstan’s ongoing North-South conflict. The internal divisions in Ukraine have become even more acute, as the armed conflict between the eastern part of the country and the Ukrainian government, which began in 2014, has escalated into a protracted civil war, and the prospects for a peaceful settlement remain elusive.25 The reason for this is that the government that came to power as a result of the revolution failed to effectively address many social and ethnic problems, which led to division and confrontation and eventually plunged the entire country into ongoing turmoil. This ongoing internal struggle has squandered the country’s development resources and severely limited the state’s economic development. Even more serious is the fact that the country has fallen apart, not only greatly weakening the authority of the central government, but also severely undermining the country’s sovereignty.
Measures to Combat Color Revolutions
Given that both China and Russia face the possibility of color revolutions, the two countries need to strengthen cooperation in the following areas in order to jointly combat the existing threat.
I. Economic Aspects
Russia and China should increase aid to neighboring countries that are lagging in terms of economic development. Analysis shows that most color revolutions have occurred because of serious economic problems that have caused public dissatisfaction with the government, giving the domestic opposition as well as external forces a chance to take advantage of the situation.26 Therefore, to prevent color revolutions in neighboring countries due to economic problems, Russia and China should strengthen coordination and increase aid to these countries. Russia can focus on the economic development of the CIS countries and provide effective aid to Kyrgyzstan and other countries. In particular, Russia can take advantage of the Eurasian Economic Union and the One Belt, One Road initiative to strengthen cooperation with the CIS countries. China, for its part, should focus on Southeast Asia, continue to strengthen economic cooperation with countries in the region, and prevent the emergence of color revolutions.
In addition, Russia should pursue an active policy aimed at stimulating the national economy. The coronavirus outbreak in early 2020 dealt a heavy blow to the Russian economy, which has been in decline for some time under the dual pressures of the epidemic and Western sanctions.27 Despite the improvement in the Russian economy through the monetary and fiscal policy of the federal government and the implementation of a short- and long-term strategy, the recovery is still slow. It is only through proactive policies that the Russian government will be able to unite the population and effectively reduce the risk of a color revolution.
II. Political Aspects
Russia and China should strengthen political interaction and trust with neighboring countries. Given that the CIS countries are often the scene of color revolutions, Russia should develop deeper dialogue with the CIS countries, including on the topic of preventing and combating color revolutions. At the same time, Russia should assess the risks of revolutions in the CIS countries to develop a response strategy and address threats in a timely manner. China can further strengthen official interaction and mutual political trust with Southeast Asian countries and help these countries resist color revolutions.
Domestically, it is necessary to create a noncorrupt administrative apparatus and improve the image of the government. Corruption of government officials is one of the main reasons for people’s discontent and public protests. Therefore, to reduce the risk of a color revolution, the honesty and loyalty of officials should be ensured. To this end, Russia and China should continue to increase the supervision and punishment of corrupt officials, as well as improve mass control mechanisms. Russia can learn from China’s establishment of the Citizen Appeals Reporting Unit, which not only mobilizes popular forces to encourage the integrity of government officials, but also expands opportunities for citizens to participate in politics and improves the government’s image, which greatly reduces the risk of a color revolution.
III. Cultural Aspects
Russia should strengthen exchanges with CIS countries and strengthen its own cultural influence. The “orange revolution” in Ukraine shows that Russia’s image in the CIS countries is quite low, and Russian culture is losing its original appeal to the outside world.28 As can be seen from the political crisis in Belarus in 2020, the United States and other Western countries are beginning a new round of color revolutions in the CIS countries. Against this backdrop, Russia should restore its image in the foreign arena and strengthen its influence and voice in the CIS countries. Russia should play the role of a communications bridge between the Russian diaspora and promote recognition of Russian culture in all countries. In addition, youth exchanges should be strengthened, and the CIS Youth Forum could be held regularly in Russia, which would contribute to a deeper understanding of Russian culture and restore its appeal.
Our countries need to strengthen media cooperation. At present, the Western countries, led by the United States, are firmly in the lead in shaping international public opinion. When countries have domestic problems, the US often uses its control of international public opinion to pressure other governments to compromise. This has become a common technique for initiating color revolutions. In the face of a powerful information offensive by the United States, Russia and China should not just defend themselves and react passively, but take the initiative together and participate actively in the battle for international public opinion. During the protests against the extradition bill in Hong Kong in 2019, Russia Today published special reports and Russian media reprinted Chinese comments on the Hong Kong issue, which gave China significant support in the face of public opinion.29 Russian media reports not only reflected events accurately, objectively, and fairly, but also demonstrated the unbreakable and deep friendship between our two countries. In the future, Russia and China should continue to deepen cooperation in new media and jointly speak out on international issues affecting each other’s interests. At the same time, cultural propaganda in foreign countries should be strengthened, and we should cooperate with each other to jointly defend the position of Russia and China in international public opinion.
IV. Ideological and Educational Aspects
The Occupy Central movement and the protests against the extradition bill in Hong Kong have shown that young students and even high school students are gradually becoming the vanguard of color revolutions.30 The opposition and foreign powers use the immaturity and fanaticism of young people to brainwash them. To counter the destructive influence of Western-style democracy on the minds of young people, Russia and China must pay special attention to education and upbringing. For example, every year, a series of campaigns could be held in educational institutions, revealing the essence and harm of color revolutions. The patriotic education program supported by the Russian Ministry of Defense is maturing more and more and yielding obvious results. China should assimilate Russia’s experience; the education departments of the two countries could cooperate in this area.
In addition, it is necessary to form an optimal teaching staff. During the protests in Hong Kong, some university professors not only agreed with the participation of students, but even encouraged young people to use violent means against law enforcement.31 This was the result of serious lapses in the formation and leadership of university faculty. Russia and China should learn a lesson from this situation and increase supervision of teachers, screen, and prevent possible Western agents from teaching in a timely manner, strictly prohibit unscrupulous employees from using the premises of educational institutions for antigovernment activities, and ensure the ideological purity of college and university faculty.
V. Regional Coordination
To maintain regional security and stability, Russia and China should strengthen interaction between organizations in the region, such as the SCO and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). At present, the composition of the SCO and CSTO states largely overlaps, while at the same time most of the members are countries with a high risk of color revolutions. The SCO and the CSTO need to organize dialogue on security issues, the main topic of which would be the fight against color revolutions, and organize the exchange of information on combating revolutions. Russia has rich experience in this area. Not only has it successfully thwarted several domestic color revolutions in recent years, but it has the ability to effectively use crisis management mechanisms to protect national interests and strategic security. Russia has introduced legislative control over foreign nongovernmental organizations and media outlets operating on its territory, as well as the strict regulation of rallies in accordance with the law.32 This experience is a clear advantage of Russia in countering color revolutions, which it can share with members of the SCO and CSTO. China can also share its experience in dealing with mass disturbances and local terrorist actions in recent years. In this way, the overall ability of member states to cope with color revolutions could be enhanced.
Members of the SCO and the CSTO must unite their positions in the fight against revolutions. A hallmark of the color revolutions that have occurred in recent years has been the use of general elections to create political chaos. The opposition often uses exit polls to question the legitimacy of elections.33 In the face of the dual pressures of domestic opposition and foreign forces, governments often find it difficult to deflect the blow. Based on Russia’s experience with color revolutions, in order to counter them, the government must take decisive measures, show firmness, and categorically not compromise with the opposition. This thesis can also be confirmed by the stark contrast between the weakness of the Georgian government in countering the “rose revolution” and the decisive approach to the Andijan turmoil by Uzbekistan.34 When member states face the threat of color revolutions, both organizations must agree to hold urgent consultations, unite their voices, speak out strongly against color revolutions, and insistently defend the legitimate authorities against encroachments. Only in this way can the governments of states facing the threat of a color revolution respond with a tougher stance, focus on combating domestic political chaos, stabilize the situation in time, and thus ensure the common security of member states of both organizations.
1. See: Solovey V.D., ‘Tsvetniye revolyutsiyi’ i Rossiya [‘Color Revolutions’ and Russia]. Comparative Politics, 2011, # 1(3), p. 16.; 金海斌: “冷战后美国对华外交政策中的意识形态研究” [Qin Haibin, A Study of the Ideology of US Foreign Policy toward China after the Cold War]. 北京: 国家行政学院出版社, 2014, 第78页.
2. Clinton unveils US policy toward Asia-Pacific region. China Economic Net, January 13, 2010. URL: http://en.ce.cn/World/Americas/201001/13/t20100113_20794770.shtml (Retrieved on June 14, 2021.)
3. Occupy Central is the name of the unauthorized rallies in Hong Kong. The full name is Occupy Central with Love and Peace, abbreviated to Occupy Central Peacefully or Occupy Central. Occupy Central began on March 27, 2013, and was officially launched on September 28, 2014. On December 15, 2014, Hong Kong police cleared the occupied areas, ending the illegal Occupy Central movement that had lasted nearly 80 days. On protests against the extradition bill in Hong Kong: In early 2019, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government proposed amending the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance to cooperate on individual cases with jurisdictions that do not have long-term mutual legal assistance arrangements. However, the US intervened, organizing radical forces in Hong Kong to put pressure on the SAR government through demonstrations and other methods, which eventually led to riots that lasted several months.
4. 张建: “美国对香港修例风波的介入: 评估与影响” [Zhang Jiang, US Intervention in Protests against the Hong Kong Extradition Bill: Assessment and Impact]. 统一战线学研究, 2020, 第1期, 第46-53页.
5. 刘兆佳: “香港修例风波背后的深层次问题” [Liu Zhaojia, Deep-seated problems behind the Hong Kong Extradition Bill protests]. 港澳研究, 2020, 第1期, 第6页.
6. “习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想三十讲” [Thirty Lectures on Xi Jinping’s Thoughts on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era]. 北京: 学习出版社, 2018, 第216页.
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11. Naumov A.O., “Myagkaya sila’ i ‘tsvetniye revolyutsiyi” [‘Soft power’ and ‘color revolutions’]. Rossiyskiy zhurnal pravovykh issledovaniy, 2016. #1(6), pp. 74, 75.
12. Naumov A.O., Traditsionniye i noviye media kak aktory ‘tsvetnykh revolyutsiy‘ [Traditional and new media as actors of ‘color revolutions’]. Diskurs-Pi, 2018, ## 3, 4 (32, 33), pp. 79-87.
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17. According to the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism, signed by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on June 15, 2001, the so-called “three forces” refer to violent terrorist forces, ethnic separatist forces, and religious extremist forces.
18. “三股势力”威胁中亚国家局势 [The ‘Three Forces’ Threaten the Situation in Central Asia]. Sina.com. November 18, 2010. URL: http://news.sina.com.en/w/sd/2010-11-18/105921492641.shtml (Retrievedon July 05, 2021.)
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