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U.S. needs to know Russia to defend against it, experts say at UND event

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Matthew Rojansky of the Kennan Institute with the Wilson Center speaks on U.S.-Russia relations Friday during a symposium at UND's Clifford Hall. (April Baumgarten/Grand Forks Herald)2 / 2

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — U.S. leaders must understand Russia from various perspectives when it comes to its relationship with the superpower, an expert from a Washington, D.C., think tank told audience members Friday, March 31, during a symposium at the University of North Dakota.

"What we really have to do more than anything is not just talk about the problems and weaknesses of the democracies of our own society but demonstrate that we have the capability and the will to solve those problems," said Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center.

Rojansky and Kenneth Yalowitz, a former U.S. ambassador to Belarus and Georgia, were invited to UND to discuss U.S.-Russian relations. The topics included North Dakota's role in potential arctic missions—particularly with Air Force bases in Grand Forks and Minot—and alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., invited the experts on Russia to speak and meet with leaders and military officials in North Dakota. In calling Russia a serious threat to the U.S., Heitkamp said North Dakota is "ground zero" for defense against Russia.

"We are trying to get people to look north," she said. "The important thing is to find a group of people who are willing to talk about the arctic."

Grand Forks is well-positioned to attract arctic missions as the location of Grand Forks Air Force Base and Grand Sky, the first drone park built in the U.S., said Col. Rodney Lewis, commanding officer at the air base.

"The ability to take off from North Dakota and do some testing ... I think offers an array of opportunities."

Rojansky and Yalowitz said Russia is more likely to target weaknesses in U.S. security, but it is important to understand Russia from multiple perspectives so the U.S. can negotiate from a position of strength.

"Investment makes sense, but not in a zero-sum way that we can bludgeon or bully the Russians out of (the arctic), but in that we will have a stronger voice if we have a stronger presence, that there is a non-zero outcome that we can look to," he said. "If we don't make serious investments, we're not going to have a voice.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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