15 April 2022
Mika Brzezinski: US Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski has met with Polish officials to discuss their needs, as the refugee crisis stretches into its second month and Ambassador Brzezinski joins us now. And since mark is playing an active role in the Biden administration’s policies here and there and is also my brother, I’m going to serve as a viewer in this segment and watch you and say Hello Mark and I’m going to hand the first question to David Ignatius. David.
David Ignatius: Mr. Ambassador, good to see you again. I want to ask you, if you would describe for our viewers the stress that you’re seeing on Poland because of the enormous inflow of refugees and a second question, we’ve been talking all morning about whether the West should do more to help Ukraine as it faces these Russian attacks. What are you hearing in Poland about whether Poles feel more should be done?
Ambassador Brzezinski: Good morning to you, David. Thank you for having me. I’m speaking to you from a country – Poland – 10% of its population today is Ukrainian refugees. Four million new Ukrainian refugees have been brought into this country and the national policy of Poland is to place every single one of those refugees into someone’s home. And so the system is both embracing these refugees. It has capacity, but it is also beginning to weigh down the system. The hospitals. The schools are feeling the pressure of half a million new students as we go into the spring semester. Most of the refugees have been placed in Poland’s four largest cities: Warsaw, Poznan, Krakow, and Wroclaw, and now that the government wants to place the refugees that are continuing to come in, in the rural areas, and many of those refugees would much prefer to be in the cities. So there are logistical, systemic things that the government here is wrestling with, just as 1 million more refugees wait across the border in Ukraine to come in as the next wave based on whether hostilities continue in Ukraine or not. And it looks like they will continue.
David Ignatius: And, Mr. Ambassador, if I could come back to my second question. What do you hear on the question of whether more should be done to help Ukraine fight back this next wave of Russian attacks? Do Poles support that? Do they talk much with you about the danger that Poland itself could get drawn into this war?
Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, both of those are true. There is no question that public opinion polling in Poland shows, David, that this is 1939 again for Poland, whereby a foreign oppressor has attacked the people of Central Europe and brutally slain many of them. And what you see with the young people, particularly, rushing to the Polish Ukrainian border, organizing through their iPhones, and arriving at the border at the middle of the night to take say the Adamiak family or another Ukrainian family to Poznan or Bydgoszcz. This is their moment to stand up like they had hoped that the country would have been able to have done when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. So there’s a tremendous desire here, not just to embrace the refugees, but to do more in Ukraine. And it’s also the case, David, that there things that could be done that could make things a lot worse. And so NATO Alliance unity and consensus has been a very important part of the pushback against Russia. And thankfully that unity is working. But you know, tactically there’s no question: there are differences of opinion. And I am so grateful that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, came here to Poland and made clear that the Americans will protect every inch of NATO territory. I can tell you that when I go on Polish television, I simply say “Polska jest bezpieczna” – Poland is safe – and “Polska jest zabezpieczona” – Poland is secure – because it is in NATO, and backed by the U.S. It is an important lowering of an anxiety message that we the American people are giving the Poles and in so doing, they feel more comfortable going to the border and not shutting that border down, but opening it completely to bring in any possible refugee that comes across the border. That’s an important shift in terms of the ways refugee flows have been met with in the history of this part of the world.
Willie Geist: Good morning, Ambassador Brzezinski. It has been extraordinary to watch the work of the Polish people and yourself included as the ambassador there to take in nearly 3 million refugees. It’s an amazing thing to watch. And there was a poll in Poland that some 70% of Poles had in some way been involved in welcoming refugees into their homes, into schools or churches in some way. It is truly a national effort. But as you say, it’s putting a strain on the system perhaps reaching a capacity, which raises the question of what the United States is prepared to do. What are some of the steps being taken to expedite the movement of some Ukrainian refugees who then want to come to the United States to get them safely to this country?
Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, Willie, thank you for saying what you said. And I do want to point out the historic nature of what is happening here. Poland, is a land where terrible crimes occurred in history. This is the land where the Holocaust occurred. This is a land of communist occupation, of Nazi atrocities, and what you have now are the children of former victims, going to the border and embracing victims. It is an incredible human interest story. In terms of the movement of refugees from Poland to beyond: Willie, the fact is that most of the refugees that have come to Poland want to stay in Poland. The language is similar. The Polish, Ukrainian language and Russian language are all Slavic languages. And there’s a lot of similarities and people can communicate between them. The food is similar. Poland is close to Ukraine so that there is a proximity that allows the refugees to hope that they can return home and to start rebuilding and I think that’s a important reason why most are staying here and not going on to Spain or France or Italy and elsewhere. That said, President Biden did announce that the US will admit 100,000 Ukrainians through the US refugee program, through humanitarian parole, or just through visas and I think that different countries have made different announcements like this. Boris Johnson has announced 200,000 will be invited to Great Britain, particularly those who have Ukrainian families in Britain. All this contributes. There is no question that – I’m here in Warsaw, Poland – if I went out into the street with your camera crew here, you would see Ukrainians at the local “Zabka,” which is the “711” here, because “Zabka” is providing special kind of remittances and offerings to Ukrainian refugees. The schools are packed. And many refugees as a stopping point are put in the stadium here where there are beds, hospital centers, dentistry, registration area so that they can assimilate quickly into Warsaw, into Poland before they go into the homes of people. So it’s been a logistically magical moment for all of this to have happen. I will flag for you, Willie, that I think that the US intelligence community, which often is criticized for getting things wrong, this time got it completely right. And under President Biden’s leadership began warning the Central Europeans, and the Baltic states that this was coming down the pike. And at first the reaction in Central Europe was a little bit like the “boy who cried wolf.” People were saying that “Russia is not going to invade Ukraine. They won’t be doing that.” And it happened and I think the warnings allowed everyone: the Poles, but also the Americans and others to go to the eight border crossings between Poland and Ukraine to develop a scientific understanding of what will happen there and deploy accordingly. And we of course have 10,500 US troops including the 82nd airborne in country right now.