The Yellow Vests Aren’t Imported from Russia (Op-ed)

Dubenskij could well be telling the truth. RT France, founded just a year ago, has more than 320,000 subscribers on YouTube, three times as many as RT U.K., which has been around longer, and half the number of subscribers of RT America. In France, the propaganda channel has been boosted by the authority of Frederic Taddei, a respected and popular TV anchor who joined RT in the fall to produce a talk show called Interdit d’Interdire (Forbidden to Forbid, one of the slogans of the May, 1968 rebellion in France). Taddei, known and often criticized for inviting controversial guests to his shows on French television, has argued that RT has given him the freedom to do whatever he wanted, something no French channel offered.

At the official level, Moscow, of course, denies having anything to do with the Yellow Vests: Putin’s press secretary Dmitri Peskov says the Kremlin respects French sovereignty and doesn’t meddle.

President Donald Trump showed no such respect last week when he tweeted the riots were a response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s policies on climate change and that the protesters were chanting “We want Trump!” But does that mean, as Kiselyov suggested on Russian state television, that the Yellow Vests’ angry actions “look like a ‘colored revolution,’ exported from America, after President Macron said Europe needed its own army”?

I seriously doubt it; maybe it’s time for democratic leaders and dictators alike to realize something important about the modern brand of protest, no matter where it takes place – in Cairo, Moscow, Kiev or Paris. If pro-establishment U.S. voices or Russian propaganda channels cheer it on, that doesn’t make it an import. It’s not a conspiracy instigated by foreign enemies even if, outwardly, it appears to serve the interests of Putin, Trump or George Soros.

As someone who has seen similar protests from the inside more than once, I say confidently that they are impossible to organize from the outside. Leaderless, diffuse, not focused on any specific list of demands, increasingly angry and violent while they still hold the participants’ attention, attracting and welcoming every species of dissatisfied individual, these protests are fostered by two factors: a very real sense of estrangement from a country’s elite and authorities, and social networks, which make spontaneous organization easy even in the absence of leaders and any other political infrastructure.