Neither the sentiment (i.e., Putin has to go) nor the mechanism of regime change (that the Russian people will force him out) represent new thinking in terms of the West’s approach to the current Russian government. In fact, both are well known to Russia. According to Michael McFaul, the US Ambassador to Russia from 2012-2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that the US works hard to foster regime changes around the world, including in Russia, through the vehicle of so-called “color revolutions” or mass civil uprisings.
Back in 2005, McFaul himself wrote an entire paper on US efforts at regime change in the former USSR. This was one of the reasons that President Barack Obama’s decision to send him to Moscow proved so unpopular with the Russian side.
The Kremlin accused the US of engaging in such action in Russia following the December 2011 Russian Duma election, narrowly won by then-Prime Minister Putin’s party. At a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following the 2011 Duma election, expressed her “serious concern about the conduct of the elections,” and called for a “full investigation of all reports of fraud and intimidation,” adding “The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted. And that means they deserve free, fair, transparent elections and leaders who are accountable to them.”
Putin in turn accused Clinton of giving “the signal” to opposition leaders to undertake mass unrest to undermine the Russian elections. “[Opposition leaders] heard the signal and with the support of the US state department began active work,” Putin said after Clinton’s comments. “We are all grownups here. We all understand the organizers are acting according to a well-known scenario and in their own mercenary political interests.”
McFaul underscored the concern on the part of Putin when it came to Clinton’s remarks. “He was genuinely worried about this mobilization against him,” McFaul said later, “and that’s when he pivoted hard against us. For Putin, this was confirming his theory of US foreign policy.”