Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview with Michael Smerconish, CNN

28 May 2022

Michael Smerconish, CNN: I’m Michael Smerconish. No, this is not Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this is Warsaw, Poland. Of course we will continue to keep you advised of all the events pertaining to (…) the tragedy of Texas. But I’m here joined by the United States Ambassador to Poland, Mark Brzezinski. Thank you so much for being here, Mr. Ambassador. I’m privileged to be here. I wanted to come here today and shine a light on exactly what’s going on in this country vis-a-vis the humanitarian outpouring toward Ukrainians in need.  The longer time here, the more folks that I speak with, I can’t help but believe that they bore the brunt of Nazism, the Holocaust, communism.  They see themselves in the Ukrainians.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Michael, “Witamy w Warszawie” – Welcome to Warsaw. And thank you for coming to Poland. Thank you for coming here to bear witness.  For Poland, this is 1939. This is an invasion by a foreign occupier, a cruel repressor. And what you’re seeing in Poland here, what you’re bearing witness to, is the Poles doing what they wish they had done in 1939, and fight back. And that’s why you see the young people organizing on social media, getting into their cars, going to the border to rescue Ukrainian refugees coming across the border. This is the only country in world history which has had a national policy to put every arriving refugee into someone’s house or home, a whole new bar.

Michael Smerconish, CNN: I was at the Global Expo facility two days ago. 2000 people, women and children. I met a four generation family from Kherson. The have Russian invaders. still there.  Literally, Ambassador, and I know you’ve heard the story so many times, they left only with the clothing on their backs. And there they sit today with no idea as to when they’ll be able to go back.

Ambassador Brzezinski: And imagine, Michael, (over) 3 million refugees came into this country over the last (three months). I served as US Ambassador to Sweden for four years.  The Swedes are rightfully proud for having brought in 1 million refugees for over 20 years.  This country, Poland, has brought in (over) 3 million refugees over (three months). And they’re again putting every arriving refugee into someone’s apartment or home. And it’s working. But there will be capacity issues.

Michael Smerconish, CNN: Do you have concern that at home, folks attention span, especially now with the tragedy of Texas, will be diverted? I bet you’ve seen the polling data that suggests that as the economy worsens, as inflation continues, Americans say “we want to help Ukraine. but we’re also worried about ourselves.”

Ambassador Brzezinski: Of course, and we have to be worried about ourselves. There are many disasters and challenges that we face. But what do we face as Americans here in Poland and Ukraine? It is a collision between democracy and authoritarianism. And I’m so proud to work for a President, President Biden, for whom I think this is his finest hour. He’s invested decades in learned about this challenge. And I think Congress has reacted to that by passing legislation authorizing 40 billion plus to support Ukraine, the devastation there, and the countries supporting Ukraine, because we cannot fail. We cannot allow Putin to win and take over a country because that sets a precedent that big and strong countries can bully weaker countries. And it’s a terrible precedent going into the 21st century.

Michael Smerconish, CNN: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” The President said those words in your presence.  He was here to see you, and of course, to see the Polish Representatives just a few blocks from where we’re located.  Should he have walked that back?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I was so proud of how President Biden represented America when he came here, because he did two things. First of all, our President showed empathy. No one shows empathy better than Joe Biden.  And the refugees at the stadium when he met them felt it.  Two: he conveyed to the Poles there are things actually we could do, that could make matters worse. So we all have to stay unified and on the same page, and what you conveyed and what he generated with our Polish allies and with others: that unity of purpose and a shared definition of the challenge and how we’re going to approach it.  He accomplished this mission in Poland.

Michael Smerconish, CNN: Okay, you’re literally the diplomat. So I respect that you’re not answering me directly when I say should he have walked that back? You know, the current issue that confronts the administration and the Pentagon is whether to give Ukraine the long range weaponry that they desire.  What thoughts do you have on that?

Ambassador Brzezinski: That we are going to support the Ukrainian people as they fight the Russian oppressors until they win.  And the way we define win: by throwing the Russians out of Ukraine – and they’re going to, and there’s there’s no “ifs”, “ands” or “buts” about that. I’m not going to get into the details of how we’re supporting the Ukrainian people fight against the Russians, but I can tell you that we are.   The Russians who are occupying Ukraine are rightfully scared.

Michael Smerconish, CNN: Secretary Kissinger still makes headlines, and I guess rightfully so. Right? He’s in a league with your father. So you know that this week he said that Ukraine perhaps needs to cede territory in order for there to be a resolution of the war. What are your thoughts on that?

Ambassador Brzezinski: My thoughts are, Michael, that when (Poland) was joining NATO, there were people who said that shouldn’t happen. And I will say to you: I am not sure the Poles would have reacted as positively and in such a humanitarian way to the Ukrainian refugees, if Poland was not safe and secure and feeling that way as a member of NATO.  I’m not sure they wouldn’t have otherwise just closed their door saying: “We see your problems; we feel your pain; but we are under threat ourselves.” Because they’re in NATO, they feel safe. I feel that mindset has to be taken with regard to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe today.  We’re doing that.

Michael Smerconish, CNN: Something that speaks to the level of commitment, Ambassador, that you’re referencing: I was in the National Stadium, which is over my right shoulder, as you well know, yesterday to watch the intake process.  I was amazed that Poland is giving the Ukrainian refugees every benefit of citizenship, save one and that is the right to vote.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Yes.  Ukrainian refugees arriving into Poland are essentially Polish citizens in the sense that they have a place to stay; they have a PESEL number, which is like an official registration, like a social security number; they have the right to pursue employment; they are putting their children into the schools – and the schools are ramping up here with Ukrainian educators and the like.  Most importantly, there’s a national embrace here that says “welcome.” And the Ukrainians feel that way. And that is why they are staying here and not going beyond: going to Germany, to Ireland, to Sweden. They are staying here because they feel comfortable. And quite frankly, it sets a new bar in terms of how to treat refugees, because this tragedy will not be the last time there is a massive movement of refugees from one country to another. The Poles have set a very good model

Michael Smerconish, CNN: Within a block of where we are there’s a tribute to Solidarity. Am I wrong when I’m putting President Zelinskyy in a league with President Lech Walesa.

Ambassador Brzezinski: No, you’re not.  They are freedom fighters, and both were willing to risk their lives for the freedom and independence of their people. There’s a building right behind me surrounded now by modern buildings, but it’s the building with its height that you might be able to see your right shoulder. That’s the Palace of Culture. That building every Pole will tell you is what the Soviets created to show that Poland is an occupied country, an occupied state, a vassal state.  Zelenskyy is refusing to allow Ukraine to be that state, and America and Poland are supporting him. It’s important that President Zelenskyy has told US officials, there are two militaries he works with that will not flee: the Polish military and the US military.

Michael Smerconish, CNN: things just haven’t changed. It was Lech Walesa standing up – in the height of the cold war – to the Soviet Union and now it’s President Zelinskyy, supported by the Poles and the United States, standing up to Putin and to Russia.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, that’s true, but things have changed. I was a Fulbright scholar in this country 30 years ago, and it wasn’t a member of NATO. Today as US ambassador, there are 12,600 American military personnel here. We have Patriot systems in this country; we have F35s.  We have Abrams tanks, and the Poles are buying hundreds more. And things are changing to make sure Central Europe is safe and secure. But we have to expect a long term struggle here. It would be great if Putin left Ukraine next week. I’m not sure that he will. We have to be prepared for a long term struggle. And I know that we are because I know my fellow Americans understand what is at stake here. This is a collision between democracy and authoritarianism.

Michael Smerconish, CNN: I hope that you’re right, and that we hang in, in terms of our support and our attention and follow the lead of the Poles because it’s a remarkable story. And I’ve been privileged just in 24, 48 hours to see it.

Ambassador Brzezinski: We’re so pleased you came to Poland. Michael.