Professor part of Belarus fact-finding mission

Grigory Ioffe

Grigory Ioffe

Geospatial Sciences Professor Grigory Ioffe was part of a fact-finding group exploring the current state of relations between the United States and Belarus, as well as relations between Belarus and Russia.

Ioffe, a native of Moscow and an expert on Belarusian politics, was part of a small contingent of analysts with the Jamestown Foundation on a three-day visit to Minsk, Belarus, earlier this year. The fact-finding journey included visits with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey and a group of senior officials.

Relations between the United States and Belarus, which dissolved from the Soviet Union in 1991, have soured over the years, with the United States accusing Belarus of being undemocratic. Belarus has accused the United States of interfering in its internal affairs.

"The United States has bad relationships with Belarus and some people would say no relationships at all," Ioffe said. "The Jamestown Foundation is trying its best to change U.S. policy in regard to Belarus. I'd like the same to happen."

While in Minsk, the professor and the group heard a comprehensive briefing from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and railway authorities regarding Belarus’s role in the Northern Distribution Network, a supplier to NATO and American forces in Afghanistan.

The Jamestown delegation also presented a compendium of analyses on Belarus and met with diplomats of the European Union and NATO-member countries stationed in Minsk, as well as members of the Polish community in Lida, Ioffe said.

In addition to Ioffe, the fact-finding journey included Jamestown Foundation President Glen E. Howard and Analyst Vladimir Socor, as well as Janusz Bugajski, a longtime Washington, D.C., expert on Eastern Europe.

The Jamestown Foundation is a research and analysis organization focusing on Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Based in Washington D.C., the group conducts frequent fact-finding visits to those locations. Ioffe writes opinion columns for The Jamestown Foundation website and its flagship publication, Eurasia Daily Monitor.

The Radford University professor was chosen to participate in the mission based on his knowledge of Belarusian politics and because of his 2008 book, "Understanding Belarus and How Western Foreign Policy Misses the Mark." Ioffe currently is writing a book about President Lukashenka, whom he interviewed twice for the publication.

Following the trip to Minsk, Ioffe and the rest of the delegation met in Washington with Dan Russell, deputy assistant secretary of state, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter, and others to convey the information gathered during their time in Belarus.

"We shared our view that, despite the fact that Belarus is definitely not a Jeffersonian democracy and nowhere near that, it should be engaged, and the United States isolating and ostracizing it further is counterproductive," Ioffe said. "The cherished goal of democracy in Belarus is not going to be achieved any time soon, but continued isolation of that country could cause it to be absorbed by Russia."

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Apr 15, 2013
Chad Osborne
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