BISHKEK -- Amid revolutionary upheaval in countries whose populations have grown weary of authoritarian regimes friendly to Russia, Moscow is again applying tried-and-true tactics: seeking an outside enemy to blame.
Opening an online summit of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation on November 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin said "attempts to exert foreign pressure" in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova were "unacceptable", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
Belarus is "under pressure from outside forces" and the two other former Soviet republics, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova, are experiencing "foreign pressure" too, he said.
The Kremlin's latest onslaught of anti-Western propaganda surged after the October revolution in Bishkek.
The controversial results of Kyrgyzstan's October 4 parliamentary election sparked mass protests, which led to the storming of government buildings, the resignation of President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, and the release from jail of Sadyr Japarov, a former member of parliament, who later became interim prime minister and acting president.
At the height of the Kyrgyz crisis, Moscow suspended its financial assistance to Kyrgyzstan after the new government in Bishkek defied instructions from the Kremlin and made a number of unilateral decisions, such as requiring the resignation of Putin loyalist Jeenbekov.
After those events, during a conference between the Russian and Kyrgyz foreign ministers in Moscow on October 23, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded rudely to Kyrgyz journalists who asked him questions in the Kyrgyz language.
"You've still got to respect the hosts, okay? In every sense," he said, apparently using an insulting pun.
The Russian word for "host" also means "boss".
The Kyrgyz delegation was unable to make any substantive progress during the October talks.
'Scheming by outside forces'
In trying to justify its geopolitical failure in Kyrgyzstan, the Kremlin is running a disinformation campaign to place the blame on others.
As soon as the Kyrgyz people began protests demanding annulment of the October 4 election results, Russian officials and Kremlin-controlled media outlets started promoting a conspiracy theory about "scheming by outside forces against Russia".
"There's no reason to doubt the transparency of the recent parliamentary elections in [Kyrgyzstan], while the mass protests are an attempt from outside to provoke a colour revolution," said Mikhail Sheremet, a deputy in the Russian State Duma, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported October 5.
"I'm certain that we're witnessing a case of outside forces trying to meddle in the democratic processes playing out on the soil of our closest neighbours and allies," Sheremet said.
He appealed to the Kyrgyz people not to succumb to incitement and to fend off any outside efforts to destabilise the situation in Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan is "the latest example of the danger of mechanically transferring the principles of Western democracy to different, unfamiliar soil", said Russian journalist Anatoly Nesimyan on his TV programme "Parafraz" October 5, parroting the Moscow establishment.
"The protesters are demanding changes and no longer want to play by the old rules," the NTV television channel, a prominent megaphone for Kremlin propaganda, acknowledged in a story broadcast on October 11.
Nevertheless, Russian journalists are voicing an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory about anti-Russian scheming by "outside forces".
"Now everything to an uncanny degree looks like a game on Brzezinski's [metaphorical] chessboard, when tensions suddenly flare up on all of Russia's borders: on the western border, in Belarus; on the southern border, in the Caucasus; and here, in Central Asia," the report said, referring to Zbigniew Brzezinski, the late US national security adviser.
'Reminiscent of the Soviet era'
Observers in Central Asia, however, give little credence to such conspiracy theories.
The Russian regime is making abstract generalisations in assessing the revolutionary events in countries where it has geopolitical interests, said Elmira Nogoibayeva, director of the Bishkek-based think-tank Polis Asia.
"The people who turn out for these rallies aspire to freedom," she said, adding that the Kremlin's accusations are directed first and foremost at news consumers in Russia so as to "teach them not to do the same thing".
"This entire information war [by Russia] is reminiscent of the Soviet era, when everything was chalked up to 'imperialist intrigue' and 'foreign agents', but the world has long since changed," Nogoibayeva said.
The reality is that Kyrgyzstan's population has been growing increasingly dissatisfied with the government and wants change, and this is what set off the mass protests, said Talgat Ismagambetov, an Almaty-based political analyst.
"Russia is shaken because it has domestic problems -- including another people tired of their own government," he said. "Putin's regime has exhausted its options and needs to re-calibrate."
Putin's authoritarian regime hinges on two pillars: economic success and the designation of an outside enemy, said Ismagambetov.
"Since there's no economic development happening in Russia, Putin is using the second component, which better fits the context of Western sanctions," Ismagambetov said, referring to sanctions in effect since Moscow's illegal 2014 annexation of Crimea. "And furthermore, [Putin's] rhetoric boils down to 'you need to respect us because of our power, among other things.'"
"However, in practice, Russia can't even maintain control over the crisis in countries it considers allies, as the events in Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Nagorno-Karabakh demonstrate: they are the consequences of a serious lapse by Russia's intelligence agencies," he said.