On February 19, Gen. Wesley Clark held a discussion with the Stanford United States-Russia Forum (SURF) where he discussed the dynamics of the relationship between Russia and the United States. As the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Gen. Clark shared his insights on Russian interventions in democratic societies, disinformation campaigns and cyberwarfare, competition in the Arctic, and the role of the Russian government as a bad actor in the global system.
Gen. Clark fielded questions from the SURF fellows and recanted anecdotes from his time at NATO. He discussed the string of “color revolutions” across Europe and Eurasia throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, where authoritarian states experienced mass protests calling for democratic reform, leading to the reinstatement of more democratic systems without a violent overthrow of the regime. Countries like Armenia and Ukraine, which experienced the Velvet Revolution and the Maidan protests respectively, could be considered states with recent color revolutions. Russia has consistently taken actions to undermine or thwart color revolutions in a number of countries that the Russian government considers to be within their sphere of influence.
Gen. Clark also discussed Russian attempts to undermine democratic elections in Western countries through disinformation campaigns. Through the efforts of our intelligence agencies, this election season saw low levels of foreign disinformation, compared with the rampant Russian disinformation in the 2016 presidential election. However, despite successful defense, this past November, the techniques of Russian disinformation have had a fundamental impact on our society, as domestic disinformation ran rampant, following the exact strategy that the Russians used in 2016. Gen. Clark noted that being aware of authoritarian strategies in propaganda was essential, as the Russian government wrote the rulebook for manipulation. Even if the Russian government did not successfully infiltrate this election, the strategies used by domestic actors and the encouragement of intentional manipulation is still cause for concern and still driven by foreign actors like Russia.
Between Russian influence in countries seeking democracy and Russian attempts to subvert democratic practices, the Russian government clearly operates in a way that undermines the principles that Americans hold dear. Through efforts, such as this talk, to bridge the gap between the American and Russian people, there is a possibility that the Russian government will understand the strength of a society comes from the people, not from an authoritarian regime.