Fear of a weak government hand: Why Putin went into Syria

What is striking, though perhaps consistent, is how Mr. Putin’s view of public protest has become the basis for an increasingly assertive foreign policy, one aimed at countering what he views as efforts by the United States and others to violate the sovereignty of nations by encouraging political change.

Mr. Putin considered United States support for the “color revolutions” that swept former Soviet republics — Georgia in 2002, Ukraine in 2004 and Kyrgyzstan in 2005 — as evidence of an American policy to topple governments in what had historically been Russia’s sphere of influence.

And fear of the “color” contagion — color, as in the orange worn by supporters of Ukraine’s president, Viktor A. Yushchenko — contributed to the deterioration of political freedoms in Russia. Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington noted in a report released on Friday that these popular uprisings have been studied by Russia’s military commanders as “a new U.S. and European approach to warfare that focuses on creating destabilizing revolutions in other states as a means of serving their security interests at a low cost and with minimal casualties.”

The civil war in Syria, in that view, is merely the latest in a series of messy conflicts that arise from the toppling or weakening of central authority through American aggression. Previous instances include the American war in Iraq that overthrew Saddam Hussein, and NATO’s military intervention in Libya in 2011.