Ambassador Brzezinski’s Interview with Belsat

8 May 2022

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  [Introduction in Belarusian language.] Hello, Mr. Ambassador. It’s a huge honor for me [that] you host us. Thank you for the first interview for Belarusian independent media. We are meeting on a really special day:  anniversary of the victory in the Second World War, 8th of May in Europe, the next day for the post-Soviet area and Russia. As we know the Kremlin like symbols for propaganda use. So, what can we suspect from Vladimir Putin in this day?

Ambassador Brzezinski:  Sergei, it’s so good to meet you here at the U.S. ambassador’s residence, and so appropriate, because from the very beginning of the struggle of the Belarusian people for sovereignty, independence, and orientation with the West, the American people have been with the people of Belarus. I appreciate, Sergei, everything that you do, that Belsat does – an independent platform to communicate with the people of Belarus with whom we all stand in solidarity, in terms of their aspirations to be independent and free. They are at top of mind, especially now, as the world’s eyes turn to this part of the world because of the crisis in Ukraine. We’re now in our 10th week of the crisis in Ukraine. We have seen every day more evidence of atrocities, of human rights violations. And, no one really knows what Putin will do next. And so, we now have 12,500 U.S. troops in Poland, all over Poland, standing shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters the Poles to maintain as much as possible the security situation in this part of the world. I don’t want to speculate in terms of what kind of symbol Putin and his group want to do on May 9, because it’s not really quite frankly, important to me what he values as a symbol. He shows that he doesn’t really stand for anything good. You know, I have focused on Russia since the late 1990s, when I worked for President Clinton, as a Director for Russia on the National Security Council. I saw the emergence of Vladimir Putin, practically out of nowhere, to replace Boris Yeltsin. I saw over the years, even some of the false hopes that the Kremlin gave the West, about collaboration, about shared values, shared hopes for our next generations. So, we saw what happened:  they’ve all been cast aside. The next generation in Russia is cut off from the rest of the world because of Putin. So, his symbols don’t really matter to me, because he changes his word all the time.

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  Former Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė argued the risks to confrontation—as a World War is already underway, so there is no point in being afraid to provoke such a war. Do you agree with this? 

Ambassador Brzezinski:  Well, the only one who’s using the term, the formulation World War is Putin and the group around him. What we’re doing is we’re standing with the Ukrainian people. And the way we define success is the Ukrainian people winning. The Ukrainian people winning by tossing the Russian forces out of Ukraine. That would be a just and good goal that, quite frankly, much of the world wants. Putin has managed to do everything that he said he did not want to have happen. He wanted to fragment NATO. NATO is as united as it’s ever been. He wanted to divide America from Europe and Eurasia. I haven’t seen more unity in transatlantic relations, I think, in my lifetime. 

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  For sure, the main question at this moment is:  when will the war end? And how do you imagine its end? 

Ambassador Brzezinski:  Well, I’ll tell you what we hope is the goal as it ends. That is the Ukrainian people tossing the Russian invaders out of Ukraine, and that’s what we think will happen. Because if there’s any one thing that the Ukrainians know how to do, really, really well is to fight for their homeland. They have shown that over their history, their willingness to take risk, to be courageous. And their leader, President Zelensky is the fighter in chief. The world has an admiration for President Zelensky. He has shown the courage, the willingness to communicate, the ability to communicate, that great leaders must show. And so, I think in the end, that’s what’s going to happen here. Because we don’t have any obvious, competing, positive narrative on the other side. And I don’t think forces of evil, in the end succeed, because most people don’t want them to succeed. And I don’t think most of the world wants Vladimir Putin to succeed. 

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  Even some Western countries as well …

Ambassador Brzezinski:  … don’t want Putin to succeed. That’s correct. There’s tremendous unity in the transatlantic community, and generally, in the world, against what Vladimir Putin is doing. No one looks at the photos coming out of Ukraine and is saying, ‘Oh, that’s good. That’s a good thing that’s happening.’ No one does that. Regardless as to your orientation about this part of the world. No one looks at these human rights violations, these rapes, these executions, and says, ‘Oh, that’s a good thing that’s happening.’ It’s disgraceful. 

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  Are we on the brink of a nuclear war? 

Ambassador Brzezinski:  I haven’t heard that, no. But I do think that it is not idle chatter when anyone in leadership invokes the word nuclear. I think that if the nuclear word is invoked idly, that’s a horrifically irresponsible thing to do. Think about that. One of the world’s greatest fears is nuclear holocaust. And to be invoking the word nuclear when it comes to the conflict is a grossly irresponsible thing to do. 

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  As we hear it regularly on Russian propaganda about nuclear attack. I mean, especially in New York City, for instance. Has Washington an answer to a possible Russian attack? 

Ambassador Brzezinski:  So as I said, invoking the word nuclear is a grossly irresponsible thing to do. And I have not heard, quite frankly, anything like what you’re talking about in terms of any kind of preparation or anything like that, no.

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  As you told before, the story of Ukraine is clear for everyone in the world. But the question is: is the victory of Ukraine, of the actually civilized world, possible without the complete collapse of Russia as a state? 

Ambassador Brzezinski:  I don’t think that in their heart of hearts, most Russians – who want to be part of the West, who want to be able to do business with the West who want to educate their children in the West – look at what’s happening in Ukraine, and as an objective analysis, say, ‘wonderful, wonderful, that’s our contribution to the world.’ And so, I just don’t think that Russians who see a value in being part of the modern world would define things that way. 

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  Is Vladimir Putin a military criminal?

Ambassador Brzezinski:  I want to just really reinforce what my president, President Joe Biden has said. Genocide has been committed, human rights violations have been committed, war crimes need to be investigated, and we’ll let those judgments, when they occur, speak for themselves.

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  Belarus became a military foothold for Russia to attack Ukraine. Now, who is Alexander Lukashenka, in such case?

Ambassador Brzezinski:  He’s a fellow traveler of Vladimir Putin and has to take some ownership and some responsibility for what’s happening. Is that what he wants to do? If so, that’s sad. No one can look at what’s happening in Ukraine and say that that’s good. From the very beginning, I have hoped that the U.S. government would say three words. We support Svyatlana. Before I came into this position … 

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  …Tsikhanouskaya. 

Ambassador Brzezinski:  Yes, exactly. Before I came into this position, and that was doing more television commentary as a private citizen, I called on the American government to say those three words: We support Svyatlana. I’m so glad that we did.

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  Who is Svyatlana for you?

Ambassador Brzezinski:  She’s a leader. She is a hero. She is courageous. And she’s willing to risk her own safety and freedom for her fellow countrymen. I think she has every right to know herself as a hero. I certainly know her that way. And I certainly know the Belarusian people who are fighting for freedom in the same way.

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat: We have a really difficult situation with Ambassador Fisher. I made few interviews with her, too. Is it possible to change?

Ambassador Brzezinski:  Julie Fisher is a very valued colleague and fellow ambassador. And, I’ve enjoyed collaborating with her on Belarus.

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  When she will be there, is the question. 

Ambassador Brzezinski:  We hope as soon as possible. 

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  She told the same to me.

Ambassador Brzezinski:  Yes.

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  But still we are waiting.

Ambassador Brzezinski:  Unfortunately, we’re waiting, and the sooner she gets there, the better off we will be. 

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  How to rebuild Ukraine after all?

Ambassador Brzezinski:  Well, I’ve been impressed by what even happened in in Warsaw today. Where you had representatives of donor countries come from around the world, meet under the auspices of the Poles and the Swedes, with a donors conference that raised billions of dollars. It’s a start. I think it’s important that President Biden has submitted a legislative package to the U.S. Congress with a value of $33 billion for Ukraine assistance. That shows that we’re walking the walk, not just talking the talk. Supporting Ukraine as a political imperative in the United States. Supporting Poland is a political imperative in the United States. And I think we’ll be seeing more of this, especially as Ukraine wins and throws Russia out of its country.

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  Mr. Ambassador, your father, Polish originally. Mr. Zbigniew Brzezisnki, the United States National Security Adviser was well known as a strong anti-communist. Is it the same for you with today’s Russia? 

Ambassador Brzezinski:  You know, Sergei, my late father was absolutely anti-Soviet, and anti-communist, but he was also perhaps more importantly, he was pro- individual freedom, and pro- human rights. The Carter Doctrine – he was the national security adviser to President Carter – but perhaps more importantly, he was like a, a blood brother of President Jimmy Carter. Of course, he worked for President Carter, and President Carter was the Commander in Chief, and father worked for him as National Security Adviser, but they were terribly close. And human rights became the organizing thesis for what became known as the Carter Doctrine. Which meant that there was a global approach to promoting human rights. For my late father, human rights, individual freedom, particularly as a child of upheaval—my father had been born in Poland, he didn’t speak proper English until he was 15 years old. He was cast on America shores by World War II. For him human rights and individual freedom were paramount. And that’s why he stood in such solidarity with the people of Belarus, and I do as well, and so does the U.S. Embassy Warsaw, and so does the Polish people and the Polish government. There is tremendous solidarity here to support not just Svyatlana and the democratic opposition of Belarus, who we see as heroes, but all the people of Belarus, to regain their sovereignty, to be able to exercise their freedom. I know that Belsat has four journalists in jail. That’s the kind of thing that was the organizing thesis – to help them – for my late father, and it certainly is for me.

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  Your father’s idea about Ukraine is, for me, fundamental: ‘it’s impossible for Russia to be the empire without Ukraine’ and Putin understands it’s true. And are you fulfilling your father’s mission? 

Ambassador Brzezinski:  You don’t in America—everyone is starting from their own story, and their own narrative. And I’m so proud of my father and my mother as well, also a product of Central Europe. And, for me, this is a mission first and foremost, for President Biden and the American people. We have a crisis here, in this part of the world. I’m proud to stand with the people of Poland, as they make themselves secure. And as they make themselves safe. And I’ve been proud to report to the American people through the media, this incredible narrative of Polish people taking so many refugees into their homes. We’re so proud of them. And the people of Belarus should understand that the people of Poland have done something incredible in certain ways. Poland has shown itself to be a humanitarian superpower, because of this – my own words – but that’s something that I’m bearing witness to as I create my own story. And as I stand in solidarity with the people of Poland and work with the government of Poland. 

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  What is your message to the people holding power in Russia and Belarus? 

Ambassador Brzezinski: My message is: live in the 21st century. And we have seen the horrors of World War II of Soviet totalitarianism. And the words never again, everyone has invoked those words. And they should mean something to them, especially in the Russian leadership, and the battle Russian leadership as well. And we live at a time when the world can see what you do. Thanks to the way people communicate through iPhones, and this type of thing, we are able to bear witness from far away. And so I guess my question is, what are you doing? How could you do what is happening in Ukraine? Where are you in this modern world? Those are my questions. 

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  And the last question, what would you like to say to citizens, Belarusians, Ukrainians, and the Russians? 

Ambassador Brzezinski:  That we stand with the people who are struggling for their freedom, and who as I sit with you, at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, are sitting in a ditch or in a dugout defending their homeland in Ukraine, or who are planning an opposition protest in Belarus, or who are trying to do something to stand up for freedom and independence in Russia, we are with you. We see you. We understand what you’re doing. And we want to help. This is a long struggle. But we are with you until the very end, until you succeed. And we will walk with you on this long walk. That’s my message to them.

Sergei Padsasonny, Belsat:  Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for your time and for the interview.