Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview with MSNBC

23 June 2022

Joe Scarborough, MSNBC: US Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski and US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink, thank you so much.  Ambassador Brink, so great to have you here with us.  I’m curious: how are things going right now, with you getting set up again in Ukraine? And more to the point, we’ve been discussing whether the Europeans are staying focused on this, whether the EU is staying focused on this – Germany and France specifically.  What is your opinion on how our allies are doing in the fight against Putin?

Ambassador Brink: Well, thanks so much, Joe and Mika, for having me on today.  I really appreciate it. Maybe I just talk a second about the fight. So after successfully pushing Russia away from Kyiv, the fight is now very focused in the East, in the area called Donbas. And it’s a really tough fight, street by street, kilometer by kilometer. And also Russia is pushing in the south. So while there has been tremendous euphoria about the initial success of the Ukrainians, it’s now coming down to a very, very difficult fight. And I’m back here in Washington now to have some senior level consultations. And to reinforce Secretary Austin and his push with members of the Contact Group – 40 countries working together to provide security assistance – to push even harder and to move even faster to move assistance to Ukraine. The Europeans are standing with us.  It’s really important that we stay together on the assistance, on the security assistance, on the humanitarian assistance, on the economic assistance and also on the sanctions. And so far, we have a very, very strong alliance. And I’m really proud of that. And I’m working also to keep it together.

Joe Scarborough, MSNBC: So President Zelenskyy has suggested that Germany and France in particular are talking more than delivering military items. What can you tell us?

Ambassador Brink: I’m in Kyiv now with my small Embassy team. And we are working to prevent wider war, but doing that by helping the Ukrainians have what they need to negotiate when the time comes from a position of strength. So our goal right now is to help Ukraine defend itself. And that’s the goal we share with our friends, partners and allies. And it’s what we will keep doing until the time comes when negotiations will be possible.

Joe Scarborough, MSNBC: President Zelenskyy has obviously been very direct on what he needs, what his country needs, what his military needs from the west. There has been criticism of several governments. I’m curious, what does his government tell you the Ukrainians need from the United States and the EU and NATO?

Ambassador Brink: Well, the first thing that I hear from President Zelenskyy, but also from every other Ukrainian, in government and outside of government on the street is thank you, thank you to the United States. And thank you to everybody who has helped them achieve the success they’ve achieved so far. And it is also due to their incredible courage and bravery in this fight.  So of course, they are talking to us in specific ways about what they need. And we are talking regularly, more than daily, basically, I’d say hourly, with me, with other members of our government and what we are doing is to try to make sure we’re giving them what they need to succeed in this fight and to defend themselves.

Joe Scarborough, MSNBC: Ambassador Brzezinski – or Mark – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is leading to dramatic shift in opinions about Moscow in neighboring Poland.  A new Pew Research Center poll released yesterday found  94% of Poles see Russia as a major threat, while an equal percent of people say they have no confidence at all in Vladimir Putin The study also found a majority of Poles have a favorable opinion of the United States and 60% say they have confidence in President Joe Biden. It really is remarkable, Mark, what’s happened in Poland over the past several years. The United States policymakers obviously had issues with it with Poland. The Poles had issues with the United States. But in this same Pew poll, it shows that about 90% of Poles have a positive impression of the United States. That’s really nothing short of extraordinary. And I talked about Germany and France. It seems the United States and Poland are the two countries who are stepping up and in front of the line to help the Ukrainians.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Joe, thank you for having me this morning. I’m so pleased to join my my colleague Ambassador Bridget Brink, who is in Kyiv. I think that is fantastic leadership that she started day one in Kyiv. Joe, you’re right, the United States and Poland are delivering for the Ukrainians like none other – and that’s not just talk – in terms of the value of the munitions, in terms of the value of the lethal and non lethal aid, it’s the Poles and the Americans who have really stepped up. But what is amazing to see, Joe, is how this crisis has led to a big public approval uptick in all of Poland, for an embrace of the relationship with the United States, and of an embrace of President Biden’s leadership. The last time that Pew public opinion poll, an authoritative public opinion poll, was taken there was about 50% public approval rating in Poland for the relationship with the United States. Now it’s 90%. And even more amazing, Poland has taken in more than 4 million Ukrainian refugees. The Pew public opinion poll shows that Polish public opinion in support of taking in even more refugees is increasing and is well over 80%. So as they’ve taken in, and put into Polish homes and apartments, millions of Ukrainians, the public support for taking in more refugees is increasing – an incredible story. And I think it really reflects confidence in what President Biden is doing in developing consensus among allies in support of Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian fighters.

Joe Scarborough, MSNBC: You know, Willie, I’ve talked about it on this show before, my daughter was able to spend the last month in Poland, looking at what the Poles were doing as far as humanitarian relief, looking at how they were taking Ukrainians into their homes, and also saying that wherever she went, she saw the United States, the hand of the United States, support of the United States in helping those Ukrainian refugees, along with the Poles.  She said it was really awe inspiring. And it is sort of remarkable what the Polish people have done during this crisis.

Willie Geist, MSNBC: It is and we’ve talked about it.  Ambassador Brzezinski, it’s great to see you. I mean, through all the darkness we’ve seen in Ukraine, the light that the people of Poland have shed has been just extraordinary for the world to see.  You talked about 4 million refugees, the Poles opening their homes and their apartments to complete strangers and welcoming families. What has it been like for Poland to absorb that many people, and potentially many more here, in terms of schools and jobs and everything else that comes with that? Because it is more than just opening the door to your apartment? You’re absorbing all those people in your society? How is that going?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Sure. Well, Willie never in the future will there be a mass movement of refugees from one country to another that does not now invoke the case of Poland. Because never before has there been a national policy declared by the national leadership of a country that every single arriving refugee will be placed into someone’s home or apartment.  Imagine if our president said we have 5 million people from Guatemala or Honduras coming across the Texas Mexican border, and we have as a national policy the placement of every one of those arriving refugees into someone’s home.  It would be a big difference in approach that has been taken. And that is what the Poles have done. And every arriving Ukrainian refugee is given every legal right a Polish citizen has except the right to vote. So they’re given a social security number, which is called a PESEL number; they’re given the right to send their children to schools;  they are given the right to pursue work. And there’s in the hundreds of thousands of new jobs that have been created in Poland: in the tech sectors, also in the home care sectors, in the industrial sector for jobs for Ukrainians.  So it’s working, but there are logistical log jams coming down the pike. The four largest cities in Poland: Warsaw, Poznan, Wroclaw, and Krakow are now at capacity. And as the government tries to direct some of the newly arriving refugees to the countryside, the refugees don’t want to go to the countryside; they want to go to the cities. So there are some logistical tensions. And we’ll see on the first day of school – September one, first day of school in Poland – whether we can have all the Ukrainian children in Poland sitting in classrooms.  That’s the goal, but there’s a national inspired effort to do that.

Willie Geist, MSNBC: It’s extraordinary and historic.  Ambassador Brink back to your side of the border where you’re doing your work. I’m curious how you’re looking at this war, in terms of a time horizon? I mean, the support of the world is still there, you know.  Other news and life intervene and it goes into the background a bit, but the war persists. Vladimir Putin persists in the east. How do you see this ending? Is there some kind of a negotiation? Can there be a negotiation with someone like Vladimir Putin who has earned no trust whatsoever from the Ukrainians or from anyone else, for that matter? Where and how does this end ultimately?

Ambassador Brink: Yeah, I just want to reinforce what Ambassador Brzezinski said, as well, on the humanitarian crisis: there are 7 million IDPs in Ukraine, and 5 million outside of Ukraine, and 3 million which Poland hosts. So this is an enormous crisis in many dimensions. And I can say I can’t have a better partner with Ambassador Brzezinski in the next-door country. So I really appreciate him and everything that he is doing and everything that the Poles are doing. To your question about how does this end: we support a sovereign, independent, prosperous and democratic Ukraine. We have said that we support President Zelenskyy and his government as to when and how he decides to negotiate the end of the war. All wars do end in negotiation eventually. And what we’re doing now is providing all of the security assistance that we are able to, together with friends and partners, to give the Ukrainians the best hand at the negotiating table.

Jonathan Lemire, MSNBC: And Ambassador Brink as a final question, shifting back to the president heading overseas on Saturday. One major topic of discussion, of course we know, will be energy prices. But White House aides have also previewed that it’s going to be about food as well, food prices, the fact that there could be real food shortages around the world because of what Russia is doing in Ukraine.  Give me an update on the situation on the ground there.  What’s being done in Ukraine to try to circumvent the Russian blockade and get some of that food out?

Ambassador Brink: Well this is another part of the crisis. Putin has weaponized food.  There are 20 to 25 million tons of grain that are stuck in Ukrainian ports that are unable to move to get to market. There’s another 20 to 25 tons of grain that’s going to come to those ports very soon at the end of this harvest season. So it is causing an exacerbating food crisis around the world. So I think what I would just say is that, as President Biden has said, the situation in Ukraine, Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine, is not only morally outrageous – and we didn’t have a chance to talk a little bit about the atrocities and war crimes that are happening there at a scale that is extraordinarily disconcerting and reminiscent of World War Two – but also ensuring peace and stability in Europe is a vital national interest of the United States. So I am there; Ambassador Brzezinski is on the frontline state. We are all here with President Biden’s support, with bipartisan congressional support, and thankfully, with the support of the American people to try to make sure that President Putin cannot change borders by force in the 21st century in Europe.

Joe Scarborough, MSNBC: Well, Ambassador Brink, you brought it up. So before we go to break, tell us about the war crimes that you’ve heard about from Ukrainians, the evidence you’ve seen.

Ambassador Brink: Yeah, it’s absolutely chilling. So I’ve had a chance since I’ve been in country to go to some of the cities outside of (Kyiv) where war crimes have taken place and atrocities have taken place. And what is most chilling to me is that there are mass graves that have been uncovered that are filled with people in civilian clothes with their hands tied behind their backs, with what appear to be bullet holes in their heads – this is men, women and children – in what appears to be a clear attempt to terrorize civilians.  What is most horrifying and disconcerting is that this appears to be systematic. So we don’t know what’s happened in places like Mariupol on the Azov Sea, which is now occupied by Russia. Which was a town of over 400,000 people, which reportedly has just a few thousand left. I’m very concerned about what happens in the future in Mariupol and these other places that are now Russian occupied.

Joe Scarborough, MCNBC: Ambassador Brink thank you …. oh, go ahead, Mark.

Ambassador Brzezinski: I was just going to say I think it’s important to add that the US Attorney General, Merrick Garland, just visited the western border of Ukraine and eastern border of Poland, to put in place a process to hunt down who has committed war crimes and to gather evidence.  This will not be let go. And we live in an age when we can forensically investigate crimes because of cell phones and video footage and so forth. This will not be let go. The US will chase this down.

Joe Scarborough, MCNBC: Ambassador Bridget Brink, thank you so much for being with us from Kyiv and thank you for your service to our country. Ambassador Mark Brzezinski as always, thank you so much for being with us. Greatly appreciate it.