Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview with BBC

14 March 2022

Kirsty Wark, BBC: We’re going to be talking to Warsaw’s mayor on the program. And on Friday, he said Warsaw’s full. The refugees are 10% of Warsaw’s population, something has to happen something but first of all, what do you make of Warsaw’s response?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I make that it is an incredible gesture of humanity. You have to remember you have to put this in a historical perspective. The Poles over the centuries, Kirsty, have been victims themselves. Some of the worst acts of humanity have occurred on this territory, like the Holocaust. And what we see now are former victims, going to rescue the victims of Russia’s oppression in Ukraine and inviting them to their homes, to their apartments. And yes, they are coming to Warsaw, and I salute the mayor of Warsaw Rafał Trzaskowski, who has gone together. And who has said, if you need a place to go, come to Warsaw. And they’re doing that and there is no protest that I have seen here. The stores are filled with Ukrainians buying goods, getting help, GoFundMe sites, it this is an important generational moment as well, because you have to remember many of the people who are driving to the 8 border crossings between Poland and Ukraine. Medyka, for example, are young people, and they’re organizing on social media. And they’re saying go to Medyka, pick up this family, bring them to Rzeszow or bring them to Wroclaw, bring them to Przemysł, bring them to Gdansk. It is an incredible event. And as President Biden’s personal representative in Poland, I’m grateful that they’re doing that.  

Kirsty Wark, BBC: Let’s talk about the attack on the military training center, just 20 kilometers from the Polish border. You have called Putin a thug on a killing spree who’s committing mass homicide. Is there any diplomatic off ramp for Putin now?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: There are many diplomatic off ramps that have been offered to Putin for the last few months. And that will be continued to be offered to President Putin because we want him to take it at least for the interests of his own people, if not the victims of his murderous enterprises across Ukraine. So I am proud to work for a government that despite the fact that we are bolstering the security ramparts, here in Poland, we are continuing to say there is a diplomatic way to stop this. And I hope that he sees the light in terms of this, but there is no sign of that at this moment.  

Kirsty Wark, BBC: That missile attack was inside Ukraine. Just underneath Article 5, an armed attack against one is considered an armed attack against all. Let’s say if a Russian missile exploded with Polish border with new intent to cause casualties and indeed did not cause casualties. What would be the response from NATO? 

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Our President and our Vice President have been clear that America and NATO will defend every square inch of NATO territory, which includes Poland. What we’re doing now is we have brought in there’s now more than 10,000 US soldiers all on Polish bases here in Poland. When I travel to Rzeszow, I travel on a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter. When I was here 30 years ago as a Fulbright scholar on the streets of Warsaw, researching the Constitutional Court, I never would have imagined that scenario. And I’m grateful that our U.S. soldiers have come here to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Poles because it sends a signal that we are absolutely up to defending all of NATO territory, including Poland.  

Kirsty Wark, BBC: But is there a gradation of response? Because we hear this could be World War III, if it was an attack on NATO’s soil. But is there a gradation response? Or is that a hyperbole? 

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Look, we have been very clear that we’re going to defend NATO territory that we have the air defense assets, we have the soldiers on the ground, we have the synchronicity in terms of our military partnership with the Poles. The Poles, in the last few years have purchased the most modern weaponry known to man, Abrams tanks, F-35s, Aegis systems, we’ve just placed two Patriot batteries in Poland, to intercept missiles, we are prepared for any contingency.  

Kirsty Wark, BBC: But does an incursion by Russia militarily in Poland, for example, necessarily constitute all out war. 

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: We are going to defend Kirsty every inch of NATO territory, and that is what should be crystal clear to Putin in Russia. And I don’t actually think that it’s lost on him. We shall see. We’ll see how this evolves. But I think a very clear statement is being made by our presence across the landmass in Poland, in terms of air assets, in terms of sea assets, in terms of land assets. And I don’t think that this is mistaken by him.   

Kirsty Wark, BBC: Joe Biden talked right back Poland’s offer of MiG-29. Why?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: He didn’t talk it back. It was a very careful decision. Well, Kirsty, I think that there was a there were several assessments offered. And the Department of Defense very clearly assessed that anything like that proposal would not change the facts on the battlefield in Ukraine.  And our intelligence community assessed that it could be perceived as escalatory. And that it is just not in our strategic interest to take that step while we absolutely are bolstering defenses and security across the board here. And I think that was an appropriate approach. 

Kirsty Wark, BBC: If China was to offer more fighter jets to Russia, what would that constitute?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Look, I mean, I think that Russia is reaching out to its various “partners” and “special friends” across the board. I don’t think that means that much when you have 1.9 million people in uniform in the NATO military looking east right now. I think when Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was here, he made it very clear. The Russians have a military of a couple 100,000. NATO has a military of almost 2 million people in uniform. Do the math, you don’t have to say you’re dangerous to be dangerous. And I think that’s the approach that we’re taking. 

Kirsty Wark, BBC: But if China entered the fray, it would be a lot more dangerous.  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I also feel that NATO’s manpower and its weaponry have a formidable presentation that should be taken extremely seriously by anyone. And given virtually any constellation of choices, Kirsty, that you throw at me, I would choose the NATO side.  

Kirsty Wark, BBC: What is a conceivable outcome in this? Is it possible that the Donbas and Crimea would be ceded to Russia for peace? 

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Well, firstly, I actually think that the Ukrainian people are going to be victorious in this, that I think that what we have seen is that you can take a city, but you don’t win the hearts and minds. The Ukrainians are showing their will to fight from the streets, from the forests from the ditches in the coldest time of winter. And they will continue to do that. And I do think that the Russians will be repelled, because there’s only so much appetite for bloodshed on that side as well witness the casualty numbers and the and the images being telegraphed back to Russian mothers, like other conflicts Russia has been in that ultimately will degrade, I feel, their morale, which I gather is very, very low already. I think that the Ukrainians will be victorious in this. And I think it will be an important marker not just for Ukraine or Eastern Europe, but for all of Europe in terms of the Eurasian landmass around the thesis that big states shouldn’t bully little states.  

Kirsty Wark, BBC: Is there a possibility, as Henry Kissinger thought should have happened that Ukraine declares neutrality? Would that be an option?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Any decision like that is a decision for the duly elected government of Ukraine and the people of Ukraine. And at this point, we are trying to do all we can to address this mass humanitarian wave that is coming across the eight border crossings in eastern Poland. And you know, I might my previous post as ambassador was in Sweden, I was in Sweden for four years. And the Swedes rightfully described how difficult it’s been for them to assimilate 1.2 million newcomers to their country. Poland, in the last 10 days, has taken in 1.6 million newcomers. We have a logistical and humanitarian challenge, which we are proud to jump in with the Poles.  

Kirsty Wark, BBC: And your family, your Polish background is very strong. Also, your family have a big on the international security.  What is the U.S. playbook here because Joe Biden is very much letting Europe take the lead. I mean, he’s there, but he’s letting Europe take the lead.  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Well, he’s keeping the alliance together assiduously. This moment is Joe Biden’s finest hour, he has spent almost five decades studying the issues, getting to know the people learning the typography and the landmass of Europe and Eurasia. And understanding the strategies, the opportunities, the vulnerabilities of these different countries, we have in the American presidency, literally the most perfectly qualified person for this challenge, because few people literally can say that they understand it better and given everything that they have invested in this. His strategy is to keep the alliance together to keep the pressure on and to stand with countries on the frontline, like Poland. And I’ve been absolutely just impressed regarding what I would call strategic reorientation of the government here in Poland, to really be in lockstep with the NATO Alliance’s approach to this challenge, to the American perspective on this challenge. And it’s been a remarkable partnership early on in this crisis.  

Kirsty Wark, BBC: But was Donald Trump actually right? That a lot of NATO countries really needed to pony up more and contribute more to NATO, he was right about that.  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: In the case of Poland, the Poles are now spending 3%, or even over 3%, including and you know, this is not the most wealthy country in the world. When Poland cuts a check for $6 billion to buy 250 Abrams tanks, like they’ve done, to pony up billions of dollars to buy F-35s, Aegis system and other systems. It is a huge digging into the pocket of the country. And they have been, the Poles have been correct in making these investments well before this conflict began, but I will also signal this to you. The American government, under the leadership of President Joe Biden, called it literally perfectly in terms of intelligence in terms of the intelligence sharing with our special friends here in Eastern Europe, starting early on in November, and to share with our allies here. What does our intelligence know about the defensive and offensive structures of Russia’s military? What does the Russian political leadership intend to do with that with that military and given that the U.S. government under President Biden’s leadership has been socializing these countries here since November regarding this threat, dealing with questions, answering inquiries from them, they were infinitely better prepared to do what they’re doing. And I would even say that you would not see this humanitarian outreach that is going east to the border, to take families into their apartments to take them into their homes. If there wasn’t the confidence that had been created as kind of like a template upon which these governments are dealing with this crisis through this intelligence sharing.  

Kirsty Wark, BBC: You talked about going to Poles that are taking people into their homes, there are no refugee camps are just people’s homes. What do you make of the details of the UK response announced today that actually could be either individual or charities sort of sponsor Ukrainians? It isn’t a government mandate for a big program for refugees.   

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I remember last week when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came here. And he described the way the UK will be opening to inviting Ukrainian refugees to come and stay with their families and so forth. And I thought that was a remarkably generous statement. I’m so pleased to see how our USAID Administrator, Samantha Power, has just announced $55 million for the UN World Food Program here. $55 million there abouts for water, hospitals, sanitation and so forth. And we are just getting started. In terms of bolstering the humanitarian response that the Poles are undertaking. But it’s important that the strategy of the Poles which really is a first, I think, is not to open centers, but to really assimilate these families into Polish homes across the country. But part of this is determined by what happens next in Ukraine. Will this conflict end and Ukrainians will be able to go home or will it drag on for months or even years, in which case people have to stay here. The Polish response through legislation passed last week has open schools provided jobs access and other steps that are important to assimilate people who may not be able to go home.  

Kirsty Wark, BBC: And that’s it. Thank you very much indeed.