Russian President Vladimir Putin has for years routinely blamed the West for inciting protests inside Russia, just as he attributes the Ukrainian war to U.S. and European meddling. China’s government blamed “forces with ulterior motives” for the ongoing protests against the ruling Communist Party sparked by anger over the country’s costly zero-COVID policy. As crowds grew across the country, their chants included demands for greater democracy and freedom, with some even calling for the removal of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have blamed the U.S. and Israeli governments for the ongoing protests that began after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman from northwest Iran, died in police custody. She had been arrested by Iran’s morality police in Tehran for allegedly violating the country’s strict rules requiring women to wear a hijab, or headscarf. Iran has also blamed dissident Kurdish groups for instigating the unrest, responding with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and by launching missile and drone attacks against Kurdish enclaves. The United States, of course, has relationships with Kurdish groups across the region.
It’s not beyond the United States’ means to sow unrest but doing so without any measure of control over the outcome is generally not a winning approach.
In Russia, protests against Putin’s war have been limited but might not fully reflect the underlying fissures and ongoing underground opposition, according to research recently highlighted by the Washington Post. Even as thousands of military-aged Russian men flee the country to avoid conscription, sabotage within Russia appears to be ongoing—and not necessarily by Ukrainians alone. Even hard-liners who support Putin and his war are becoming increasingly critical. Putin cronies such as Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group private military company, and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov have been less than subtle in their attacks against Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russia’s senior military commanders.