15 April 2022
Diane Macedo, ABC: The UN refugee agency now says more than 4.6 million people have fled Ukraine since the war started. The vast majority of those refugees traveled across the border into Poland, which has taken in more than 2.6 million people. Let’s bring in the US Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski for more on this. Ambassador, thank you for being here. You’ve said that Poland has been successful in assimilating refugees into their homes. Why is that and how long do you think that can continue?
Ambassador Brzezinski: It’s an excellent question. And as you said at the top of your report, two and a half million refugees have come to Poland. And let me put a timeline on that: in the last (seven weeks). And to provide some context, I served as the US Ambassador to Sweden, and Sweden makes a good point that it took a long time to assimilate 1 million refugees over 20 years. Poland has taken two and a half million refugees in 30 days and has, as a national policy, the placement of every single one of those refugees into someone’s home or apartment. That is a first in history: that as a national policy the reaction to a refugee inflow is to place everyone in someone’s apartment or home. And it’s working. It’s working for now. And I think, anecdotally speaking, I would bear witness to even more capacity here. The major cities, Warsaw, Poznan, Krakow, Wroclaw, have taken the bulk of those refugee arrivals. There’s about 800,000 of the 2 million plus refugees here in those four cities alone. And so what the government is doing is it’s pointing to smaller towns in more rural areas for where the refugees should go. And that is not optimal in the eyes of at least some of the arriving refugees. So there are some logistical problems and hoops to jump through, but at this point, it’s working. It is a logistical feat. Most of the refugees don’t want to go beyond Poland. They want to stay here because the Polish language and Ukrainian language and Russian language. – they’re all Slavic languages – and one can communicate between them. The food is similar but, most importantly, Poland is close. It’s proximate to where these refugees want to go. Diane, they want to go home. They want to go home and rebuild broken Ukraine.
Diane Macedo, ABC: And Ambassador there have been concerns over potential attacks within Poland’s borders. Have those eased at all now that Russia is changing its focus to eastern Ukraine?
Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, that’s an excellent question Diane and as Chief of Mission here, the safety and security first and foremost of the American community, and then more generally, in terms of the relationship between America and Poland is my top priority. And so I watch that space closely. At this point, this country is the beneficiary of the leadership and the remarks by President Biden and Vice President Harris, both of whom have been here in this country in the last five weeks, and said that America will defend every square inch of NATO territory, of course, including Poland, and that has provided reassurance to the Poles at an uncertain time. None of the missiles have landed within Poland. What has arrived in Poland is the product of the Russian attack in Ukraine, and that is millions of refugees -and there’s different ways you can destabilize a country. It isn’t just by missiles landing within your territory. It can be the thrusting of many, many, many people – refugees – into your country. And that can create a difficult, difficult problem for the economy, for the systems – and it’s working here so far. And in many ways, this is a testimony to the American intelligence community. Because months ago, in the Fall, the American intelligence community under the leadership of President Biden was going to each of these countries and saying “Russia will attack you Ukraine. This is their defensive and offensive postures. This is their decision making. You need to get ready.” To their credit, the countries in this part of the world did.
Diane Macedo, ABC: And you talked about how Poland is at least militarily protected by the NATO alliance. Now Sweden and Finland are considering joining NATO. Do you think NATO should admit them? And what effect do you think that could have?
Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, that’s ultimately up to the people of Sweden and Finland, and they still have to submit formal applications to join NATO. But I would say this: President Putin is a product of the KGB, and he was originally stationed in St. Petersburg, along the Russian coast on the Baltic Sea, which looks out to the Nordic countries. And the fact that Sweden and Finland are considering joining NATO must have President Putin questioning his decision making. If the reason why he attacked Ukraine was to to prevent NATO from expanding, the very product of what he has done in Ukraine has created a unity of purpose in NATO and a potentially increased membership of NATO, with Sweden and Finland. It’s an incredibly bad result in his eyes, and quite frankly, it’s just where he should find himself given what he’s done.
Diane Macedo, ABC: And now Putin has said that he thinks peace talks are dead in the water. So where does the diplomatic effort go from here?
Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, I think that everyone is somehow hopeful that he can be convinced that it is not in the Russians people’s self interest to pursue some kind of crazy notion of a resurrection of a Russian tsarist state by trying to occupied Kyiv and Odessa, to stop the hostilities, and to get out of a foreign country, the country of Ukraine. So I’m proud to work for a government that still keep some hope alive for diplomatic off ramps, but in the meantime, this country will support the people of Ukraine who are defending themselves and also help Poland logistically handle the arrival of millions of friends, friends from the neighboring country of Ukraine, and make them feel at home here for as long as they have to be away from their own home.
Diane Macedo, ABC: And what more does Poland need in order to be able to continue to do that?
Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, that’s a great question because this costs something. It costs something for them to put up in their apartments and homes, two and a half million new people. And there are some great charities – the Polish Red Cross, Polish Humanitarian Assistance – that have been the beneficiary of donations from around the world. The State Department has on its website, a link that also identifies charities that are supporting the efforts here. What’s most needed Diana is financial assistance because what we want is for the refugees here to be given food and shelter and clothes and educational materials for their kids – half a million new kids in Polish schools from Ukraine this spring – that are purchased from the local market. That helps renew the local economy that feels some strain because of what is happening. It’s interesting that the World Bank has figures being released in terms of the projected growth of each of these countries. Poland projects a positive growth rate of 4% while Russia has projects a negative growth rate of 10%. Speaks for itself in terms of decision making by their leaders.
Diane Macedo, ABC: Alright. US Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski, we appreciate your time today. Thank you.