Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview with Newsweek

8 September 2022

David Brennan, Newsweek: … in your time here you’ve seen that kind of transform I’m sure.  I was talking to Jonathan as well about your rocky introduction to this post. I’m sure you were very much looking forward to coming back to Poland. But then within a couple of months of your confirmation, here we are with a kind of historic crisis.

Ambassador Brzezinski: I have David. I have this benefit of comparison, which is I did a Fulbright scholarship here in Poland between 1991 and 1993. I was assigned to the then Constitutional Court “Tribunal Konstytucyjny” and I wrote a book on the collision between law and power in post-communist Poland and the struggle for constitutional supremacy in Poland.  I saw Poland 30 years ago and today.  If there ever was evidence of a capacity of a people to change and modernize, it’s what I’ve seen in that span of time. It is remarkable. It is remarkable in terms of the international outlook of people, in terms of the infrastructure, in terms of the development, the amount of Western stuff, whether its stores, people, ideas, etc, media, coming into Poland and so forth over that 30 years. It’s something to behold.

David Brennan, Newsweek: How has that been for you, that adjustment?

Ambassador Brzezinski: It’s true. The adjustment has actually been something that we’ve made lemonade out of lemons out of. And so the first thing I want to do is really flag the leadership of President Biden in terms of maintaining the Alliance during a really tough challenge, maintaining a unity of purpose, and a shared definition of the challenge among different allies. With Poland: Poland has become the frontline state to a crisis, to a war. And the way we have worked it here is we have worked assiduously with the Poles on the security and the military dimension, to make sure that Poland is safe and secure. When I go on television in Poland, I – “Polska jest bezpieczny i Polska jest zabezpieczona” –  Poland is safe, and Poland is secure. And that’s because American and Polish military are truly shoulder to shoulder in this country, on Polish bases all across the country, with the most sophisticated tools that the military can have to defend this country in any contingency. And then, of course, there’s the humanitarian crisis. And if there is something Poland has shown since February 24th, it is the capacity for rapid mobilization. And I want to put this in a historical context, David: America has shown our capacity for rapid mobilization in our history. The attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in the creation of a war equipment making industry to fight wars in two directions, Atlantic and Pacific. The race to the moon spurred tremendous technological revolution once it seized the national mindset. What’s happened here since February 24th, is the rapid mobilization of the Polish people to improvise, to help millions of refugees coming from Ukraine into Poland, who did not know where they were going to sleep that night, and did not really know whether they were going to stay in Poland, or go elsewhere. And the Poles took it upon themselves to give the Ukrainians every right a Polish citizen has – except the right to vote. And that has created a home away from home for millions of Ukrainian people.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have found work in Poland in the last six months. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children were in seats in schools on the first day of school on September 1st. So there’s a capacity of rapid mobilization here that is clearly an asset that the country has, and it has shown the world that it has.  There are other examples of this in Poland’s history: the Warsaw Uprising.  We were just talking about how Warsaw was destroyed and this is your first visit to Warsaw. The Warsaw Uprising was an example of rapid mobilization by Polish people to defend themselves. The period of emergence of Solidarity, 1979 to 1980, was also a time of rapid mobilization of young people. And then again in 1989 and 1990, when Poland became nearly free, and now in 2022. So that’s a historical context that at least I think about, in terms of specifically what the Poles have done since February 24. That is clearly an asset to the country and an asset to the west, as we deal with this Russian attack on Ukraine.

David Brennan, Newsweek: Yes.  Different European countries have reacted in different ways. It makes sense that the Poles have been more mobilized, more forthright in their reaction to this invasion. You know, people now say the Baltics, the Poles, maybe some of the others in southeastern Europe, are occupying the moral center now of EU and NATO. Obviously, that’s a criticism of Western European nations who have been accused of not doing enough.  Has Poland’s strategic importance in the US’s view of and coordination with Europe – has that changed since February 24? Is Poland now more central to the US Strategic mentality here?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, David, Poland has always been a special friend of the United States.  That goes back centuries, when Poles risked their lives for American freedom: Pulaski and Kosciuszko. And Americans risked their lives for Polish freedom. And we’re now in an era where both Poland and America share the same freedom. And what’s exceptional about this moment, is that the Poles have been able to absolutely step up and deliver security synchronicity when it comes to military and their interoperability and working together on command and control with us. And as I mentioned, their ability to rapidly mobilize to help those who can’t help themselves. Because if the Poles had not done that, we’re talking about millions of people wandering around Europe, not knowing where they would sleep at night. And that is, obviously not something that that anyone wants.  The fact that Poland is a frontline state to the crisis, by definition gives it an important, strategic geopolitical position. There’s no question about that.  I really think that it has been the engagement of our leaders who we all work with, and for: the President, the Vice President, the Secretaries of State Defense, who’ve all come here in the last six months, over 100 members of Congress have come here in the last six months, to bear witness, and to say directly to the Polish people: “We are with you, and we will defend every square inch of of NATO territory,” which of course means Poland.  That has provided the the reassurance and the clarity for the Poles, to go beyond what they might have done.  What they might have done is to hunker down, and what they did is they extended themselves.  You have to ask yourself why they did that. And the answer, in part has to be that they had the confidence and the reassurance from the west to do that.  That I think was reflected in the instinct of our president, President Biden, when he came here in March, and he went to the refugees, and the refugees said to him, “Please hear us, we want to say thank you to Poland.” And the President reflected that in his speech at the Royal Castle that night, saying “This, people of Poland is what I heard. And this is what I want to say to you.”

David Brennan, Newsweek: And talking about the confidence and security that NATO decisions have given Poland, two major parts of that are the permanent deployment here of US troops and the NATO Strategic Concept, which was discussed in the summer in Madrid. Obviously, the Poles always want more: more troops, more equipment.  Fair enough. You can’t blame them for asking. Is there a scope for expanding that military footprint of the US here in Poland? And is there a desire from the Polish side for that in your experience?

Ambassador Brzezinski: The Poles are underway right now with a historic purchase of military equipment that is unprecedented here. Billions are being deployed by the Poles to purchase HIMARS, Abrams tanks, Patriots, F 35s, and the list just continues to grow with more coming down the pike. That by definition, will result in a meshing together of our security establishment and Poland’s, because that’s the most sophisticated equipment that any ally or special friend can buy. And of course, we don’t let just anyone buy that military equipment from us. So that already will result in a meshing together.  The designation (as permanent) of the US Army Forward Command V corps Headquarters in Poznan, was historic. No country on the Eastern Flank of NATO has that designation now, with the exception of Poland. And when the Poles over the centuries were being occupied, were being attacked, what they had hoped for, is someone to come and stand with them, and to help protect them.  That permanent designation could not be more important both symbolically and in terms of the practicalities of advancing interoperability, shared command and control, joint exercises, training and the like. But that’s not all that’s happening (with) the permanent designation.  As I was able to see, in the Polish military base of Powidz, a couple of months ago, there are a number of infrastructure developments on Polish bases being undertaken all across the country, with over 100 planned in the next few years, to advance everything from training grounds, barracks, and the like to support US troops rotating through Poland, and advancing that shared security, interoperability, joint training exercises, that sends the message that we are together,

David Brennan, Newsweek: From the US side, quite happy with the level of US military presence in Poland for now?

Ambassador Brzezinski: At this point, we feel we can address every contingency. And that’s a question, David, that I ask every day here at post: “Are we ready for every contingency?” And I am assured by our military leaders up and down the line, that we are ready for every contingency.

David Brennan, Newsweek: What’s happening is obviously tragic, and very few people in the world want this to be happening. But it has given us a window into what those contingencies need to be and the kind of preparations that we need here in Poland and in the Baltic States and elsewhere.  Is that your experience as well?  From your conversations with the Americans here and the Poles here, have they learned more about what they need to be doing to prepare, both in terms of practical defenses and infrastructure that you were just mentioning, and then emergency contingencies with humanitarian issues, political-economic issues, things like that?

Ambassador Brzezinski: In the lead up to the attack on Ukraine by Russia, one of the things that I think the President initiated, that really built trust and dialogue between the US and the Poles was intelligence sharing, and saying that, “here’s how we understand the defensive and offensive structures of the Russian military, and here is how we understand the Russian political elite intend to use it in an attack on Ukraine.” And that developed a harmony in terms of anticipating the threat and being able to prepare to react against it. It’s quite clear some of the steps that we’ve taken.  Patriot systems are deployed in Poland. Other systems are deployed in Poland in order to address any possible contingency.  That dialogue is occurring daily, given Poland’s geopolitical position next to Ukraine, and given the fact that we don’t know what Putin will do next. So we have to be ready for anything and everything. More broadly, the Polish economy continues to attract American investment. And I’m hearing from American CEOs every single week, saying  “We’re coming to Poland. Because Poland is open for business. We understand that it’s next to a war zone. Poland is open for business, and it’s a good place to invest. It’s a good place to manufacture our products. It’s a good place to do engineering, tech innovation, and the like.”  We’re continuing to hear that.  I have programs at the American Embassy in which I invite specific CEOs.  The CEO of Google Sundar Pichai, the CEO of YouTube Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of McDonald’s Chris Kempczinski have all taken part in a “business person states person speaker series” that I have set up here in which they have shared: they are opening new McDonald’s stores across Poland; YouTube has announced thousands of Polish tech jobs, white collar tech jobs in Poland; Google has purchased the Warsaw hub, a major building complex here for $1 billion earlier this year.  These are all really important signals that the Polish economy is going to continue to advance and thrive. And Americans will come here to do their business profitably, and with global reach, despite the fact that it’s next to a war zone.  That’s really important, because our security relationship with Poland is not just military to military; it’s economy to economy, business to business, people to people and the like.

David Brennan, Newsweek: You mentioned the intelligence sharing.  American journalists and people like me who write for American publications have this mindset of coming and asking about what the US is doing to help so and so and what the US brings to the table.  Of course, here in Poland, there is a kind of unrivaled understanding of Russia, and how it works and its history and how it operates. I imagine that the US military intelligence, political spheres are all learning a lot from their Polish counterparts. I know, they already would have been very open to that, as you mentioned before, but do you feel that that is accelerating and that understanding is improving since the invasion started?

Ambassador Brzezinski: We’re all learning about what Putin’s leadership is all about. After his attack on Ukraine, we see videos coming out of Ukraine, reminiscent of World War Two. And so we are all being informed and working together so, first of all, none of this expands, and second, ultimately, the Ukrainian people are successful. That means a resilient, strong US Polish relationship. That’s what I can report to you; it’s one of the strongest messages to Putinism, that he called this strategically, absolutely wrong. Did he invade Ukraine, so that Sweden and Finland can go into NATO? No.  Did he invade Ukraine, so that the US and the Poles could get closer than they have ever been in history, militarily, people to people, business to business? No. Did he invade Ukraine to bolster security presence in other parts of Central Europe? No. And so we are seeing that he called these things wrong. And strategically, we’re calling these things right, right now. And I feel that there is, despite this tragedy in Ukraine, there’s a synchronicity in terms of meeting the challenge in this part of the world, that’s really unprecedented. I think President Biden, in the best sense of the word, is “killing it” in terms of his decision making, in terms of how to manage this crisis here in Central Europe,

David Brennan, Newsweek: Just very quickly, because you mentioned Putin’s strategic blunders, he said yesterday that Russia has lost nothing through this invasion. What’s your reaction to that?

Ambassador Brzezinski: He has taken away, Putin has taken away from the young people of Russia, their hopes and aspirations to engage with the West, participate in western business, study in the West, grow with the West as part of a global community. That is, to me, such a terrible thing to do to the young generation. And he did that. I don’t see how he could say that they’ve lost nothing at all. And this is beyond the lives of the Russian soldiers that he has sacrificed on the fields of Ukraine, which will continue as long as he’s there.