Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview with Interia

15 March 2022

Marcin Makowski, Interia: Just a few days ago, we had the situation when Russian rockets hit the military base, next to Lviv, which is 20 kilometers from the Polish border, and explosions were even heard in Polish villages next to the border. Previously in this base in Yavoriv, NATO forces conducted exercises with Ukrainians. This is a clear sign from Moscow, that NATO transport of the military will be in danger. Can Poland feel safe? Do you feel safe in Warsaw in these circumstances?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: My initial response to you is that this brutality must stop. Not only was there a missile strike, but 35 people were killed, and 150 people were injured in a totally and completely avoidable war. This tragedy is being repeated across the landmass of Ukraine. The fallout we see here in Poland in person with the arrival of literally millions of people. I can also report to you that Poland is absolutely standing shoulder-to-shoulder with American forces who are stationed here. We have now more than 10,000 of our soldiers stationed all on Polish bases, with state of the art equipment, ready to defend as the President and the Vice President said here in Warsaw last week, ready to defend every inch of NATO territory. That should be taken very seriously by everyone.  

Marcin Makowski, Interia: Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, said in an interview, that if there will be a military attack on the territory of NATO, even a missile that is detonated on the Polish territory by accident, NATO would invoke Article 5, and we’ll use the full force of NATO to respond. This statement wasn’t repeated by the Secretary of State, Blinken. He only said that this brutality must stop. Is it something like two sides of the approach to that issue? Would Article 5 will be invoked, even for a small breach of the Polish border from the Russian side?   

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: We take the Article 5 commitment to every NATO member, including Poland, incredibly seriously. An attack on one is an attack on all. From that you can draw your own conclusions. If Poland is attacked, it would be considered as if it was an attack on the United States. We would respond in kind. I think that needs to be taken very much to heart to the Polish people who, I feel, because of NATO membership, have been responding with an embrace and with an openness, and with a humanitarian orientation, like people have never seen ever before. NATO membership, I think, alleviates the anxiety and uncertainty that inevitably one feels in this situation. But I think it would be felt much more so in Poland if it were not part of NATO, because the people of Poland and the people of the United States, understand what a commitment is, which means that if we are attacked, we’re going to join together.   

Marcin Makowski, Interia: I recently spoke with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, who was visiting Rzeszow. And he told me that the no fly zone or the closed sky above Ukraine is still on the table. Is it still on the table?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I am not going to get in front of any military contingency. I’m just not going to do that. I’m focusing on the security of this country, and the alignment between America, NATO and Poland, and then also the humanitarian response. This story has become the human-interest story that people identify Poland with. Most people around the world when they get to know a foreign country, they don’t study statistics, or read history books. It’s really shared through human interest stories. The beautiful human-interest story of Poland today is those young people who organize on social media, who say, go to Medyka, and pick up this family and take that family to this home, or this apartment. It is a fantastic story. We’re here to do whatever we can to share in and join in this humanitarian effort. I’m just very pleased that in terms of humanitarian assistance, USAID recently gave $53 million to the UN World Food Program $54 billion was announced by USAID Administrator Samantha Power to provide food, water, and shelter. This is over and above the $240 million in security assistance that the U.S. has provided Ukraine in over the last week and a half. And so this problem is not just a Polish problem. It’s an international problem, and the Americans are joining in.  

Marcin Makowski, Interia: You have mentioned the scale and the magnitude of recent visit in Poland to Vice President, Kamala Haris, in Warsaw, as well as Congressmen and Senators. There is a speculation ahead of all of those in U.S. media, as well, that President Joe Biden is planning to travel to Europe, to Brussels to the NATO meeting and then probably also to Warsaw. Can you comment about the possibility of that visit? Is it something that is considered or not?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I have nothing to share on that particular question. But I want to share with you more generally, that the last two months, has seen a real uptick in engagement by the tippy top leadership on the U.S. side in foreign policy and in defense, in order to join together on this particular crisis. About a week ago, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Vice President United States, visited the country, several very senior Congressional delegations visited the country in that week, and the President of the United States did a phone call the President Duda that lasted almost one hour. That is an expensive piece of real estate on the President’s schedule. And it is totally merited because of the crisis that we face together.  

Marcin Makowski, Interia: So regardless of what you said, we cannot exclude the possibility of that visit to happen. I know that you cannot confirm, but I assume that this is not impossible to assume that the President will be travelling here.  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I have nothing to share in terms of answering that question at this point.  

Marcin Makowski, Interia: The prime ministers of Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovenia are traveling right now to Kyiv to meet with President Zelensky. Is that visit also pre-consulted with the Washington? And what are your thoughts about the outcome of the visit?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I’m very pleased to say that we have with the Polish government, the president’s office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Defense, have all been talking very closely about things that are happening, and things that might happen. That is a huge, positive piece of the context with which we deal with the crisis in Ukraine. What we are seeing in terms of our communications, is that neither of us wants to surprise each other. Each of us wants to support the initiatives of the other. We’re comparing notes in terms of what we are seeing and hearing, both on the battlefield in Ukraine, as well as in the humanitarian wave coming from Poland into the West. There is a lot of logistical and data sharing, which is as it should be at this point.  

Marcin Makowski, Interia: Do you think that this visit is similar to 2008? Visiting Georgia with foreign representative among of them President Lech Kaczynski is in the similar moment in history, similar situation. Do you see any resemblance between those two visits?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: You know, I don’t want to compare those two visits, because there are both universal things shared between these crises, but also unique things, to each of these crises. More generally, I think that it is clear to Vladimir Putin that the West is unified. That NATO is unified, that the EU is unified, that we speak with one collective voice in terms of condemnation of what President Putin is doing, and we have a shared definition of the threat. And that automatically puts Putin at a disadvantage. He would want our alliances to have cleavages and fissures, they don’t.  

Marcin Makowski, Interia: Recently Poland is proposing withdrawing Russia from the G20 and replacing Russia with another economy, which is at 21st place, which is Poland. Do you think it is possible that Poland could join the G20 summit instead of Russia?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I feel sorry for the Russian people, because they are victims of gross malpractice by President Putin in terms of leadership. What President Putin is seeing is that even those closest to him are feeling the brunt of isolation, are feeling the brunt of investigations by legal authorities, having their assets seized, and not able to conduct commerce, really, in much of the world. I think that is actually quite tragic for the Russian people, because I don’t see the Russian people defining as in their self-interest, a revanchist definition of what is Russia, as executed by President Putin. Yet they are the victims of this. It is tragic. What Putin is doing is a absolute example of malpractice in leadership. I think that the people of Russia are going to turn against this.   

Marcin Makowski, Interia: I understand. That last question was about the G20. Should Poland replace Russia?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I am not going to get in front of decisions and contingencies. I will say that President Putin is managed to totally isolate his own people who have a thirst for engaging the rest of the world. He is preventing a generation from being able to do that. That’s a tragedy. 

Marcin Makowski, Interia: What are your thoughts about the road to close the gap between Beijing and Moscow. Vladimir Putin asked Xi Jinping for the logistical and military help and providing food supplies to the Russian army. Is Washington concerned about the possible closing gap between China and Russia in the war? How do we evaluate the threat of that situation?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I’ll answered that question with a question. Would it be rational for China’s leadership to buy into this tragedy created by President Putin? Would that be in the self-interest of the Chinese government and the Chinese people? The answer to that is absolutely not. Anyone who knows China would know that that is not in the self-interest of the Chinese people. I’ll leave it at that.  

Marcin Makowski, Interia: But China is sending the signals that they can do it anyway. So is it a bluff? Or is it something that is really happening in front of our eyes? How serious is that from the perspective of Washington?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I cannot imagine the Chinese leadership as joining with Russia, in this humanitarian and military catastrophe in Ukraine that President Putin has perpetrated as positive for them and the Chinese people. I can’t imagine that.  

Marcin Makowski, Interia: Congress recently voted in favor of the unprecedented amount of money that could be shared with Ukraine and a country that helps with the refugee crisis. What part of this money could be transferred to Poland to help with the circumstances of the almost 2 million people coming to our country?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Of that $13.6 billion, a significant block of it, at least over 40%, if not more, has much to do with the humanitarian dimension. Poland has taken in approaching 2 billion Ukrainian citizens. We are all asking ourselves, how do we boost capacity in this country? My Embassy here in Warsaw is fielding approaches from foreign governments, the private sector, NGOs in droves with one question: what is it that we can do to help? Part of this is organizing and aligning these different capacities to do the best thing for the Ukrainian people who find themselves in Poland. Clearly that appropriation by Congress is going to help.  

Marcin Makowski, Interia: We met at the Google investment announcement, which was $700 million. You said that investment is safe. What are you saying to the investors that are asking you the same question? Is it safe? What is your response? Because if Poland will be able to hold this wave of refugees from Ukraine, our economy needs to be healthy. Are you reassuring the investors that it is safe? And what are you saying to them?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I think that what Poland has done in the last two weeks, is the one of the best billboards, in terms of business in Poland, that one could ever imagine. Because the Poles are showing that they contribute to humanity, and good corporate citizens want to join together with people who contribute to humanity. I think that’s what the Poles, and what others will see, is that the U.S. shares in and joins in that challenge. I think that there’s going to be actually many opportunities in business, to assimilate Ukrainians who have come here to draw them into some of the jobs and so forth. That’s certainly what we’re trying to think through with the Poles. Sometimes out of tragedy comes tremendous opportunity. We’re trying to think, with innovation, with a sense of inclusion, and with a sense of humanity to do exactly that. I am thrilled Google made that investment. It makes eminent sense for them to stage into Poland. I was proud to join the Prime Minister on the stage to say that Poland is in business, even though it’s a frontline state of NATO. I think that in many ways, in terms of business, the best is yet to come.  

Marcin Makowski, Interia: Great. I have one more thing to which you can simply say “yes” or “no,” because it’s a tricky question. If you don’t want to answer I completely understand. I recently spoke to former Ambassador Georgette Mosbacher. It was a quite widely quoted interview. She said that the European Union is taking care of rule of law in Poland and debating over the sanctions. Maybe it’s time to say out loud that some of the problems with the rule of law in Poland that were shared in the West was the effect of Russian disinformation. What are your comments about that?   

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Sure. My comment is this. Every country should strive to work on rule of law, legal certainty, and the supremacy of law over power. We’re working on that ourselves back in the United States. We’ve seen in the last couple of years, things that have been examples that need work, to say the least, same thing in Poland. We share in and join in the struggle for advancement of democracy. We are all doing that. It’s a little bit like dialectical behavioral theory. Several things can be true at once. We stand foursquare with Poland in security. We also stand foursquare with Poland’s democracy. These things aren’t mutually inconsistent.  

Marcin Makowski, Interia: Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador.