Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview with ONET

3 February 2023

Kamil Turecki, ONET: Mr. Ambassador, at the very beginning, I would like to say that the world has collapsed for you twice in a year. Do you know what I mean?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I don’t.

Kamil Turecki, ONET: At first, well, your mom (passed) five years after your your dad, Zbigniew. How are you doing today? Without your parents?

Ambassador Brzezinski: That is a question I didn’t expect. There are times that I wake up at night, or I’m on a walk, and I really miss my mom. My mom was a fundamental center of gravity for the Brzezinski family. And she was genuine. She was real. She was honest, sometimes painfully, honest, painfully honest.

Kamil Turecki, ONET: What do you mean by this?

Ambassador Brzezinski: She would say what she thought. If one of her kids was going a little sideways, she would say that in ways that would clearly register with us. I miss her joy. Her love of nature was profound. I have her dog here somewhere. Have you seen Daisy?

Kamil Turecki, ONET: Yes.

Ambassador Brzezinski: So I have her dog here. And sometimes, I think “Well, this time last year, Daisy was in Florida, with my mom.” And it kind of provides a little bit of reminiscence. She was a wonderful woman. She loved Poland. I went to Lodz in (November), and I thought about my mom during that entire visit to Lodz. Because one of my mother’s favorite memories was going to Lodz – it must have been 20 years ago – with her chainsaws, plural, chainsaws, going out to the forest with 20 Ukrainian helpers who she had hired and living in the forest, and sleeping in the forest and doing her sculpture. That was the kind of person she was: very realistic, very much about rolling up her sleeves, and doing the work, very much about sharing the love of fellow human beings. I think she would have loved the story of Poland today and the extension of humanity that the Polish people have done for the Ukrainian refugees. But yeah, I miss her a lot. Amazingly, I was in Czestochowa when I got the call from my sister that my mother had passed away. I found that to be so poignant, in many ways.

Kamil Turecki, ONET: Mr. Ambassador, did you expect it somehow?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I didn’t expect it, no. I was going to go see her the next day. It was on a Friday that I got a call that my mother … and I were supposed to leave for Florida to go see her the next day. So the day before I was leaving to go see my mother, she died. And it was painful to have missed her that time. And I’m so happy that I took a weekend to go see her in April. In April of last year, I flew from Poland to Florida to see her. A personal friend of mine had said you need to go see your mom; you need to go spend some time with her. And I was like, it’s so busy around here in Warsaw. And this personal friend said: “No, because your mom, she’s getting older. You never know what can happen.” That was a correct statement. So yes, absolutely, I am parentless right now. I’ve missed both my parents because every day there’s a new story here in Poland. It is an incredibly positive story of the American Polish relationship. And I miss being able to pick up the phone and call them to tell that story. And so I guess one of the things that I would say to the readers is that if you still have your parents, give them a call.

Kamil Turecki, ONET: Mr. Ambassador, how do you find yourself in Poland? Just two days before the war broke up in Ukraine, you (presented) your letters of credentials, and I more than sure that your vision of staying up here in Poland has changed a lot because of the war.

Ambassador Brzezinski: It did. I was in Ambassador school, with about 40 other ambassadorial nominees, preparing to go to different posts: Rahm Emanuel went to Japan, Jeff Flake went to Turkey, Tom Udall went to New Zealand, Vicki Kennedy went to Austria. I remember focusing on a totally different set of priorities than I was presented with when I got the post. But here’s something important for you to know: President Biden made the decision, months in advance of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to tell our friends in this region, what is coming down the pike for you. This is what our intelligence knows about the defensive and offensive structures of the Russian military. And this is what our intelligence knows about what political elites in Russia intend to do them. Getting that months long headstart allowed us the chance to get organized. So by “Game Day”, February 24, we had a scientific understanding of the border crossings between Poland and Ukraine. We had tremendous synchronicity in terms of working with the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Health, and others, to be able to help those coming across the border, the Poles most immediately, but we also expected thousands of American citizens to come across the border. And so we were ready. And I think that is a testament to the ability of President Biden to really forecast for our friends and allies, what’s coming down the pike. Because we were right about that: that, in fact, Russia did invade Ukraine, it invaded it in a certain way, and certain things happened.

Kamil Turecki, ONET: You say that Polish American relations are at a good point right now, but it has to be stressed that your candidacy to being an ambassador to Poland, was blocked for quite a long time.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Do you know what, Kamil? It’s important in life to look forward and to embrace the positive. And that’s exactly what I’ve done every single day. As Ambassador, I’ve tried to project the most positive energy that I have inside myself, and the most positive engagement Americans can offer to our special friends, the Poles. I’ve tried to do that every single day in the last year.

Kamil Turecki, ONET: And coming back to the war in Ukraine. How did your day, February 24th, look like?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Collaborating closely with our counterparts, the Poles, on issues of international diplomacy, and working with regard to our allies. It’s not just the Americans and Poles, who face this threat together. It’s important to recognize that others share in and join in, in this huge crisis in Ukraine. So collaborating with my counterparts, sharing with the polls, and interpreting for the Poles, what I’m hearing from Washington, and interpreting for Washington, what I hear from the Poles. Our military to military engagement is profoundly deep and expansive between America and the Poles right now. So working, obviously, with Minister Blaszczak and the Ministry of Defense to ensure interoperability and coordination between the American and Polish sides was something that I would do every day, including that day, and making sure I have my fingers on the pulse of the Polish people and how they’re feeling. Are they anxious and uncertain? Are they confident and innovative in terms of his crisis? and I was pleased to report to Washington that the Poles are tremendously confident, that they are worried because of what was happening in Ukraine, ready for any contingency, and looking forward to working closely with the Americans? That’s what I saw on that day.

Kamil Turecki, ONET: Mr. Ambassador, F16 fighters for Ukraine, is it possible?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Here’s what I’ll say about supplying our Ukrainian friends. We want them to win this war, and to toss the Russians out of Ukraine and send them to where they came from. The Ukrainians are winning right now. And we will continue to support them assiduously until this war is over and until they have won. That’s what I’ll say about

Kamil Turecki, ONET: Okay, so F16s are still in the game.

Ambassador Brzezinski: I’m saying that we’re supplying the Ukrainian fighters with the means to win. And the definition of winning is removing or tossing out the Russian occupiers from Ukraine, back into Russia.

Kamil Turecki, ONET: Mr. Ambassador, could you promise me right here, right now, that if there are any negotiations, peace negotiations with Russians in the future, these negotiations will be on Ukrainian terms with US and Western countries support? I mean, no land concessions.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Our President and our Secretary of State have said the following: “Nothing, and I mean nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.” And that should be taken in its fulsome sense, including everything that you just said, but also other terms and contingencies. Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. The Ukrainians have suffered so much, and have been terrorized so much and have been victimized with genocide. So that it really can be no other way, but a tremendously close engagement and consultation with the Ukrainian leadership and the Ukrainian people.

Kamil Turecki, ONET: And what about Abrams tanks? Don’t you think that Germans, speaking simply, forced you somehow to do it, to handover Abrams tanks to Ukraine?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, I will say very clearly, that the United States military was not forced to do anything. We we have very clear plans, in terms of how to operate, a very clear understanding in terms of the threat that Ukraine faces, and that we’re supporting the Ukrainians to resist. No, that is not an accurate statement. We were not leveraged, we were not forced. The the American military has an ability to project power and to address threats far, far afield, including much further than Ukraine. So meaning anywhere in the world is what I’m trying to say when I say that. And no, I don’t think that we were leveraged in any way. And I’m proud to work for a President, for a Secretary of State who actually want to give diplomacy a chance, while fulsomely supporting the Ukrainian people in their mass resistance, in their successful resistance against Russian occupiers

Kamil Turecki, ONET: When will President Joe Biden come to Poland, because there are rumors about that?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, he came here last March.

Kamil Turecki, ONET: Okay, maybe next time?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, I will say this. Poland, has received in the last year, an incredible, unprecedented, historic number of official visitors, literally thousands of of senior officials and officials have come from the American government alone – let alone other countries – but from the American government alone, to Poland. Think about this: 0ver 1/5 of the entire body of the US Congress has come to Poland, more than 120 members of Congress, the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State three times, the Secretary of Defense three times, the Secretary of Treasury, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Attorney General, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Advisor, every single participant in foreign policy decision making in America and in Washington has visited Poland since February 24. It’s an incredible story. And you have to ask yourself, what are they doing? They are bearing witness to a success story. They are bearing witness to something that is working. The Ukrainians are successfully resisting the Russian attackers. And the Poles are doing something also unprecedented. They are opening their whole homes and their apartments as a national policy to a mass wave of Ukrainian refugees. I lived in Sweden for four years as US Ambassador Sweden. Sweden is rightfully proud for having accepted 1 million refugees. over 20 years. Poland has received millions of refugees from Ukraine. Well over 1 million refugees have officially registered with the government registry process – so it’s probably even more than that – in order to stay here. And again, as a product of national policy, almost every one of those refugees is in someone’s house or home. It is an awesome story of the Polish heart, and of “goscinosc”. No mass wave of refugees in the future anywhere in the world will be able to ignore the case of Poland and the way Poland embraced the wave of refugees that came here. It is unprecedented. And it sets a new bar.

Kamil Turecki, ONET: But coming back to the question, Will presidential Biden come to Poland in February, in March of this year?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I don’t have any information on that right now.

Kamil Turecki, ONET: I think there was a kind of a race of positions in terms of Leopard tanks, for example, among Americans, among Germans, among Western countries what to do next. And I think that public opinion can say: “Well, the Russians will not wait for anything.” Don’t you think it’s kind of shameful for the Western countries that we we’ve been waiting so long. Because even a week more is still a long time – maybe too long. So what is the question? My question is: don’t you think we should have sent, for example, tanks, Leopard tanks a bit earlier than was done?

Ambassador Brzezinski: When I look at what the Ukrainians are doing, for sure to have prevented some of the tragedies that have been inflicted on Ukraine would have been the good thing to do. At the same time, I’m proud of how President Biden has maintained the alliance of dozens and dozens of very differentially situated countries around one unity of purpose and shared definition of the threat. And that’s not an easy thing to do, to maintain an alliance, especially I think, in this day and age, where the media and other interest drives so much. And yet the President has done that. He’s maintained a unity of purpose, and shared definition of of the threat in a crisis in which people have different perspectives based on where they sit. I think that is an amazing thing to have achieved, and to keep together. I don’t think that it’s easy. So, I like to see things, Kamil, as the glass half full, and not the glass half empty. I think it is amazing what we are doing together now. I look at it that way, as opposed to zeroing in on “I wish we had done something different back then, or earlier.” I think we have an amazing story right now, because you have to ask yourself what is at stake here? What is at stake here is the collision between dictatorship and authoritarianism on the one hand, and democracy and freedom on the other. And how this conflict turns out, will really be an important tone setter for decades and decades thereafter, in terms of how countries interact with each other. And the Ukrainians are winning. And if, in the end, as I think will happen, and we will support the Ukrainians until this happens, if the Ukrainians win and toss the Russians out, it will be the biggest endorsement of political democracy and free market economy in a hundred years. The world will have a certain tone set to it, and others will take notice. That is the essence of what is at stake. And what we’re trying to do is hard. We’re empowering the people In the fight against an organized military, on which billions of dollars have been spent building the Russian military. It turns out the Russian military actually has a lot of intrinsic internal problems, fundamental weaknesses that had been laid bare for the world to see that go to fundamental weaknesses in terms of leadership, in terms of military culture, and command and control, and the like. Those are the things that the Russians are laying bare through this situation that they’ve created. And on the other hand, the Ukrainians have shown that a sense of national identity and a sense of loyalty to their fellow person, and to their society, can take you a long way, in terms of fighting against the enemy. And that’s what we’re trying to support.

Kamil Turecki, ONET: One question more. How do you see the future of the conflict? You’ve already said that Ukraine will win, but what what are the future scenarios? Maybe in the short term, in the long term. The long term is that Ukraine will win, but in the short term how do you see the next steps? Maybe your opinion of Ukrainian steps and the Russian steps?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Sure. So I think responsible leadership requires us to prepare for a drawn out, extended conflict. We hope that that doesn’t happen. But we should prepare our own minds and our own resources for an extended conflict in order to beat the Russians and have the Ukrainians push the Russians out. It’s their conflict with the Russians. And so for them to win, I think will take a little bit of time, because the Russians are somewhat dug in, in the East, despite the fundamental weaknesses that I talked about. But I also think that the Ukrainians have learned a lot in just one year, and that they’ve learned that they’re gutsiness, their will to fight, their ability to learn quickly in terms of how to fight, is pretty lethal.

Kamil Turecki, ONET: Yeah, to be honest, the most experienced army in Europe right now.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Yeah, in terms of wartime, it’s the most experienced in Europe right now, as you put it, and that can take you a long way. It’s also important just to take on board that the Ukrainians know their territory. They know the land and the territory on which they fight. The Russian soldiers coming in don’t. So there is a built in advantage that the Ukrainians have that will result in Russian soldiers losing their lives, tragically. It’s tragic when anyone loses their life. But the Russians are the invaders and the Ukrainians are going to push them out. And so I think that this will take time. We will support the Ukrainians for as long as it takes. I’m so proud that we were able to have President Zelenskyy visit Washington DC in December, and to make a universal message to the American people regarding what is at stake directly from his own voice. And the American people are responding in kind, both in terms of sending money resources, and in terms of political support. And I’m absolutely confident that that will continue.