Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview with ONET

22 February 2022

Bartosz Węglarczyk, ONET : Let me start first with the statement you made a few minutes after you met the president and you became an official ambassador.  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I’m 45 minutes old.  

Bartosz Węglarczyk, ONET: Forty-five minutes old and into the first crisis in Ukraine and the U.S. embassy staff in Ukraine being transferred to Poland. Can you explain to us why it happened, and if all the staff is moved from Lviv to Przemyśl in Poland?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: All of our decisions are made for reasons pertaining to the security of American personnel and American citizens. We made that move on the basis of intelligence and security reasons and feel very justified in having done that. Very importantly, we can’t do it alone. We have incredible Polish partners to help facilitate border crossings and to help facilitate medevacs which we have already had for some people who had medical issues. We were able to move seamlessly through Medyka through Korczowo, to Przemyśl to Rzeszów. We have an exacting understanding of the transport corridors of and of the border crossing. That is important because we need to deliver for our personnel and our people a scientific understanding of what it takes to get from there to here. Because this is a dynamic situation. We do not know what Putin is going to do next, we feel that the various false flags and triggers he continues to incrementally, step-by-step reinforce some of our worst fears. While at the same time, we hope, we continue to hope that he executes one of the off ramps that we have provided him to pursue ultimately a diplomatic solution to this crisis.  

Bartosz Węglarczyk, ONET: The removal of the U.S. Embassy staff not only from Kyiv to Lviv, but then from Lviv to Poland, does that mean that you’re expecting the full invasion of Russia into Ukraine? 

 Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: The reason why we did that is for the full security of our personnel and to ensure that they are able to continue to operate with the logistical basis that a modern embassy operates with in a country of 45 million people. They will continue to be the U.S. Embassy to Ukraine and they will continue to provide services as needed. They will continue to analyze what is happening and to report back. The basis for them to operate is just simply more secure here. The situation is dynamic in Russia. We are alarmed by the declarations pertaining to Donetsk and Luhansk. And, again, we continue to hope that President Putin executes one of the off ramps, but as contingencies we have approaching 10,000 U.S. soldiers in Poland, all on Polish bases, all backed up and supported by Polish enablers. It is an example of working shoulder-to-shoulder. When you and I were younger, and we were having conversations with Jan Nowak-Jeziorański and my late father Zbigniew Brzezinski, about the possibility of this kind of alignment. That was the dream. This is the reality. And the reality, I’m very assured by. 

Bartosz Węglarczyk, ONET: I want to ask you about the U.S. military in Poland and the military presence in Poland. But let me just ask one more question about Ukraine. We are talking before the U.S. and the EU announce any kind of sanctions against Russia. Can you tell us what kind of sanctions we should expect and can you tell us if you see cooperation in terms of introducing sanctions between Poland and the EU and the U.S.? 

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: It’s very interesting that you ask that question because we had a visit yesterday, of three of the most senior United States senators on the Democratic side, Senator Durbin, who’s the Majority Whip, Senator Coons, and Senator Shaheen, and sanctions were one of the things that were discussed at length with Polish authorities. We had lunch with the President, we met with the Minister of Defense, we met with the opposition in the Senate and so forth. And there was an absolutely universal sense that when we deploy sanctions, in order to push back Putin, those sanctions are going to have to be of a kind that hit close to home and hurt. To hear our senators be extremely clear that they are thinking through who are the closest around President Putin, who will go immediately to him, because their lifestyle, their business, their reach, their ability to travel will be drastically curtailed, was very much on the table. There was an absolute synchronicity, in terms of the thinking between the Americans and the Poles. News developments, Bartosz, are going to shape this. We continue to hear mixed messages from Russian authorities. Their actions and their words are not matching. We are hoping, somehow, that those words that we hear, when we hear the word diplomacy in the end, are not subordinate to the military moves that are being made. But news developments will shape this.  

 Bartosz Węglarczyk, ONET: So when you look at the actions of Russia, and when you look at what, especially last night’s news, both from the Kremlin and on the ground in Donetsk and Lugansk. Do you see it as a small invasion, a large invasion of Russia into Ukraine, or no invasion?   

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: We see all of this as part and parcel of the same thing, Bartosz. We see this as a continuation of the invasion of 2014. This is not, you know, a new thing. This is part of mission creep by Putin. We see this as a tremendously destabilizing event. It has been the goodwill of, first and foremost, the people of this region, who are at most risk, and from others from around the world. They are coming together now to economically stabilize a brittle Ukraine and to provide shoulder-to-shoulder in synchronicity in terms of intelligence sharing and the deployment of arms and boots on the ground. They are here to send the message that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin sent last Friday, which is: “Do not test us, it is not in your interest to do this.” But, Bartosz, let me say something, as a friend of Poland, a true friend of Poland, who was here 30 years ago, as a Fulbright Scholar, walking on the streets around here that I would not have imagined in 1991. Being here in 2022, on the eve of a security crisis to the east, and Poland, having a feeling of safety, of security, of lack of anxiety, and lack of uncertainty that it has now. Schools are open, people are going to restaurants, people are doing their business. Because people feel safe, that is the net result of collective security. You know, and this proves the thesis, that NATO membership counts, it matters. It means something, not just for people in the military, but for regular folks, business as normal and this country is stable, despite the fact that it is a frontline state of NATO right now. That’s the importance of NATO enlargement.  

Bartosz Węglarczyk, ONET: What if someone in 1991 told you that there would be 10,000 US military personnel in Poland?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: It would have been a dream that I would not have been sure could become a reality. I think it’s a fantastic thing that I’m seeing right now, the fact that our fiercest warriors, the 82nd airborne, are on the ground here. Those are people you just don’t mess with. I’m sure Putin realizes that. He is not uninformed in terms of the the caliber of the various militaries that he faces. This is the net result of years and years of hard work, of advocacy, of people making the case that collective security is a way of advancing global peace. You bring into the equation people who otherwise would feel anxious and uncertain and their problems are not isolated. Their problems are our problems, let’s build in them together. We’re seeing the net result of that here in Poland. That is, I think, a critically important thing for everyone to understand.   

Bartosz Węglarczyk, ONET: We obviously will have no idea what will happen next in Ukraine. But assuming that the security situation of Poland doesn’t deteriorate further, they expect all those 10,000 U.S. military to go back to the U.S. in next few weeks, few months? 

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: That’ll be shaped by news developments. I mean, they are here because of an unstable situation to the east, and clear security risks. President Putin has deployed troops and taken steps that have made us send thousands of our best warriors from America to Poland. You don’t just flick a switch off overnight, and say, “Oh, it’s done.” So it will be shaped by news developments. I hope that reason prevails in the Kremlin, and we shall see, but I think that, you know, we are ready. We were able to deploy quickly. I mean, President Biden, two weeks ago, decided that several thousand more American troops would come here. It’s not been two months or several months for them to get here. It’s been two weeks. I was able to visit some of them with Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin. They bring simply the most sophisticated equipment in terms of understanding the threat and neutralizing the threat. 

 Bartosz Węglarczyk, ONET: Obviously, there’s more military cooperation between Poland and the U.S. We have witnessed the agreement by the State Department to sell 250 tanks to Poland. What’s the next step in military cooperation? When will we see the tanks actually on the ground in Poland? Do you foresee any next steps in military cooperation between Poland and the U.S.?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: First of all, let’s talk about the Abrams sale, because that’s a $6 billion purchase by Poland. I had emphasized to the leaders in America for whom I work, that $6 billion is a big number. The Poles have reached deep into their pocket to find this money to purchase the state of the art tanks that, until now, only the U.S. military uses. We have not transferred that particular version of the Abrams to any ally, or special friend around the world. Poland is the first in terms of that. I also just met with President Duda in his office this afternoon. He said that is not the last purchase, that Poland is on a big move to modernize and upgrade its military. That modernization and upgrade will very much focus on American military and American technology. We feel confident that President Duda is making the right choice because our weapons are the best in the world. We’ve invested the most in understanding what works anywhere in the world. The Poles now will be the beneficiary of a lot of R&D when it comes to military technology. I’m very pleased that Secretary Austin was able to announce while he was here, that the State Department and the Defense Department approve that purchase. I think that we’ve heard from the members of Congress, who were here yesterday, Senators Shaheen, Coons, and Durbin that they absolutely support this sale as well. There’s a pretty strong endorsement for this to happen. Secretary Austin was clear that they’re going to move the actual product as quickly as possible. Training is a big, big piece of that and Secretary Austin really asked me to make clear to the Poles that this is not just purchase and deploy, one and done. When you purchase tank technology like this, it’s about training, training, and yet more training, which I love, because that brings Polish soldiers to America to train and it brings American trainers to Poland. But it must be constant. These are highly sophisticated machines to run and the training has to be continuous. We are not just selling products, were meshing together as a people when it comes to our military, because this training has to be part of it. That will mesh our two countries together. That’s for the Abrams, that’s for the HIMARS, that’s for the F-35, that’s for the Patriots, that’s for the Aegis system, among other weapons systems that are coming here. We are thinking through other tactical systems that can be deployed against this immediate threat because Russia has shown its colors in terms of some of the things that are happening already in Ukraine. We were thinking through what we need to do to work with the Poles so that they are as secure as they are right now. Because as I said, for a frontline state of NATO, this is a calm, secure a place that doesn’t have the anxiety and uncertainty that a country that is not a NATO might have in these conditions.  

Bartosz Węglarczyk, ONET: Obviously, Putin changed the priorities of your first year in office. Because when your name was announced, as the as the next U.S. Ambassador to Poland, obviously, many people thought that apart from military cooperation, which was always great between Poland and the U.S., one of the priorities of your office will be the rule of law and the freedom of media in Poland. Obviously, it just so happened that the moment you officially became the ambassador, TVN7 was given a license, and this crisis is over. But we know very well that the crisis around TVN licenses will continue. What’s your position? Did you have a chance to talk to the President about TVN and the whole story behind the the getting licenses for the station? 

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Bartosz, you know, dialectical behavior theory is an important thing for an ambassador to know, because an ambassador has to do several things at once. Several things have to be true at the same time. One thing that is true is that we are totally and absolutely committed to Poland’s security. The second thing that is true is that America embraces equality, democracy, and the rule of law. Those two things are not mutually inconsistent. I have talked with the President and the leadership here about the rule of law. I have thanked the President for his help on TVN. Over the last two months, I appreciated what he did. I appreciated the bill that he submitted on the disciplinary chamber and the steps that he has taken. We will continue to absolutely make clear that we as a democracy have our own struggles internally. Secretary of State Tony Blinken said that to the Polish Foreign Ministers Zbigniew Rau two weeks ago. Each of us has our struggles when it comes to democracy and the rule of law. What we’re all seeking is a more perfect union. In certain ways, that is an endless task. The highest calling is to pursue democracy, inclusion, fairness, the supremacy of law over power when there’s a collision between law and power. Each of us has that struggle. It’s absolutely a part of what I will be doing here. I was here 30 years ago, when just after the collapse of the communist regime. I pointed out to  took the three senators who visited yesterday, the little tiny room in the Polish Sejm that used to be the office of the head of the Trybunał Konstytucyjny. It was the most modest beginning that you can think of for a constitutional court. When I came there as a Fulbright scholar 30 years ago, I said to myself, this isn’t exactly the way our Supreme Court looks like in Washington, DC, and that is okay, because you have to start somewhere. One of the things that I studied and tried to learn more about was the genesis of the rule of law here, the basic law here, and I come back here 30 years later, and very much democracy, equality, and the rule of law will be something that I will be talking about, that will be very much part of my program.  

Bartosz Węglarczyk, ONET: Do you think that they expect the crisis around TVN, to be over? 

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I think we have the basis for a useful dialogue, that can be constructive in developing a better and better alignment. But of course, we have a very clear position in terms of freedom of the media. Freedom of the media, is the absolute backbone of democracy. It’s how people are informed. It’s the basis upon which people make decisions politically in terms of their best interests. It’s something that we believe in, profoundly, in the United States. I have people in the media in my own family, who have been the subject of tremendous criticism when they took a political position. It hurt, to be honest with you, to see them hurt by nasty reactions to their own political or journalistic positions. I say that, in particular, when it comes to my late father, who took throughout his career, very tough, brave political positions, and advanced ideas that sometimes were very unconventional and counter conventional. He took the hit politically, and sometimes socially, even from his closest friends. You’ll see that in my speech that I give tomorrow, some of the very specific anecdotes from his experiences as an opinion maker in the United States. Some of his closest friends said, you know, Zbig, you’re born elsewhere, you’re in certain ways that beneficiary of the American system as a naturalized citizen, you have a special obligation, for example, to support the war in Iraq. He was astonished, and collaterally, I was astonished that people said that to him. My sister, Mika, has been the subject of threats and criticism as a journalist. And I’ve been so proud of her. I understand firsthand witnessing their roles, how tough journalism can be, and also how important the product is, what it is that they make. They make news, they share information. That has a critical role in our democracy.  

Bartosz Węglarczyk, ONET: The last question, because I know we’re out of time. I want to ask you about the photo of your father with the Pope that is in the hallway of the building. Why did you decide to put this picture there?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Because it is a picture of two Poles who found themselves abroad in the late 1970s. For each of whom Poland was a profound North Star. One happened to be the Pope, and the other happened to be the national security adviser to the President of the United States at the height of the Cold War. Those two Polish people collaborated for the global good, but their roots were in Poland. That informed their worldview, the fact that each of them had experienced upheaval informed their psyche. For the Pope, it informed the advice that they gave to his flock, to the whole world of Catholics and for my father, to people involved in foreign policy in America. I just think it’s an incredible story that those two Poles found themselves, as they say, in America in the catbird seat. And what catbird seats those were! That’s not nothing to be the Pope. And it’s not nothing to be the national security adviser. They did all they could with the positions that they found themselves in, from the moment they started to the moment they ended. I was proud to know both. So that’s why I put that out there. 

 Bartosz Węglarczyk, ONET: Thank you so much.