Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview with Polska Times

3 June 2022

Wojciech Rogacin, Polska Times: … question regarding Polish and American relationships. Because before you came to Poland four months ago, they were not very best I would say.  And after that something has changed. Mr. President Biden came to Warsaw.  He made an important speech. And Poland also cooperates with the United States in helping Ukraine. What’s your feeling about this? How do you feel? What are these relationships? And what happened? Over this issue right now?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Thank you for that question. Never before have America and Poland cooperated so closely. We are aligned in word and in deed, when it comes to the Ukraine crisis, but also, when it comes to democracy, rule of law, the economy, business.  And I’m incredibly proud to serve as ambassador here at this time, because I think that we have really developed a close and constructive alignment, meaning that we are working together to solve problems. We are working together to make sure that neither of us is surprised. We are working together to build prosperity for our people in this very room two hours ago, I had the CEO of YouTube here, Susan Wojcicki. She’s a Polish American. She’s someone who is a Polish citizen, actually, her father was born in Poland. She is precisely an example of the kind of American leader who I’m seeking to bring to Poland, to engage as she did with 30 Poles from the government, the private sector, from the NGO community, from the arts community, from the entertainment community, on how do we make sure that Poland, not just continues to be prosperous, but becomes even more prosperous, despite the crisis. And I think the real heroes in all of this are the people of Poland, because it’s been the people of Poland, who have shown the world that the children of victims can race to the border, and help and save victims, because that’s what’s happened here.  You have Polish young people who have organized on social media to go to the Medyka or Korczowa border crossing, to arrive there at 11:40 at night, to pick up, say, the Adamiuk family and to take them to Bydgoszcz, to take them to Poznan, to take them to Krakow or Wroclaw.  It is a beautiful story that the world really embraces. And, you know, in Washington, we have a great saying, “you can assess yourself based on the budget that you get.” Well, we saw what kind of budget, Ukraine and those helping Ukraine will get. Congress passed legislation last week of ($40) billion to support the efforts to address the crisis in Ukraine. So that’s a really important statement that the Ukraine crisis, Poland’s help for Ukrainians is a political imperative in Washington.

Wojciech Rogacin, Polska Times: Poland also is the hub for transferring military help to Ukraine from the world and mostly from the United States. Was it the Polish initiative to become such a country? Or was it made in cooperation or with the United States.

Ambassador Brzezinski: I think all of us have been horrified by what Putin has done in Ukraine.  Putin has committed genocide and war crimes in Ukraine. And we live at a moment – thanks to these things, iPhones –  that you can’t do those things, and get away with it easily. It is more easy to forensically investigate what happened –  thanks to these things, iPhones, videos and so forth – than ever before. All of us, first of all, collaborated before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In many ways, this is the finest hour of the US intelligence community, because well, before the Russians invaded Ukraine on February 24, it was the US intelligence community that was coming to Poland, to the Baltics, to say “Get prepared; develop your understanding about what’s going to happen; understand your border crossings, because there is an invasion that’s about to happen.” They conveyed an understanding of the defensive and offensive structures of the Russian military and an understanding of what the political leaders of Russia intended to do with it. They were right. And that allowed all of us – Poland and America – to get prepared. And so we are providing support for Ukrainian people as much as we can. And Poland has been a partner of choice, a friend of choice when it comes to that.

Wojciech Rogacin, Polska Times: Ukraine needs badly, I would say, this armament, this military equipment to fight the enemy. But on the other hand, we we heard in the last days some voices, also from from America, also in the American press, that Ukraine should make some concessions towards Russia to stop this war or to make a truce. Do you agree with these voices? And what what do you think about this?

Ambassador Brzezinski: No one in the US government is asking the Ukrainian government or the Ukrainian people to make concessions. They have been victimized. We are here to support the victims of Russia’s atrocities. We’re not asking anyone there to make concessions.

Wojciech Rogacin, Polska Times: How about the security of Poland, which is neighboring country with Ukraine and also threatened by Russian officials. Security, military security and energy security – could we count on, you know, support from the United States?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well as US Ambassador to Poland, the security of Poland couldn’t be greater interest and focus of mine. And I say security defined / writ large: military security, energy security, food security, and the like. We now have 12,600 US soldiers in Poland, all on Polish bases spread out all over Poland. We are prepared for any contingency.  As President Biden has conveyed very clearly, we will defend every square inch of NATO territory, which includes Poland. Full stop. When President Biden came here, the first city he visited was not Warsaw but Rzeszow, close to the border to make the point that the security of Poland is a top priority of the American government. And we have deployed accordingly across the country to execute that vision.

Wojciech Rogacin, Polska Times: But there were also rumors that we can expect a permanent American base in Poland, not just a rotation.  Could you confirm this?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, right now we’re in the middle of an assessment of what should be our force posture. I don’t want to get in front of the conclusions of that assessment. Clearly we have a crisis to the east, a security crisis to the east.

Wojciech Rogacin, Polska Times; How about the energy cooperation? I mean, LNG gas and and Poland and the United States were also in talks about the small nuclear plants.  Are these projects developing?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well Poland’s energy diversification and energy security is one of our top priorities. American companies and American sources (will soon) deliver about half of Poland’s LNG. And I’m happy to say that Poland has a robust supply of LNG right now. And I think that’s important for Poland’s energy security. I also very much feel that diversification – that would include small reactors, and large reactors – is something that we are working assiduously for the Poles to effectuate as part of their energy modernization.

Wojciech Rogacin, Polska Times: I would like to ask about the war. Do you believe in the victory of Ukraine?p

Ambassador Brzezinski: Absolutely. We’re totally committed to the victory of the Ukrainian people in tossing Russia out of Ukraine. And I just don’t think that the facts lend themselves to the conclusion that Russia can sustain the Defense of Ukraine that the Ukrainian people are doing of their own country.  In certain ways, as one commentator put it, Ukraine – and President Zelenskyy – is deploying a 21st century information war against a 20th century conventional warfare attack by Putin. And he’s winning because he’s got support, supplies, money coming in to support him and his colleagues from around the world. And I think that will remain the course until Russia leaves.  And we are ready to stay the course, even if this is a long term, sustained challenge. What’s your opinion on Mister Zelenskyy? He refused to take a safe exit from the country at the beginning of war. How do you see this? Well, how impressive that is. I mean, that’s a true leader, someone who’s willing to risk his life and quite frankly, you know, he has stayed there. And so his his family. I think it’s impressive that Mrs. Zelenskyy has stayed in Ukraine, and the outreach she has done as well. No one looks at presidential Zelinskyy and doesn’t see a hero, someone willing to risk his life for the safety and freedom of his people. And someone who has communicated effectively the human interest story of the tragedy of Ukraine, because most people learn about countries far away through human interest stories, about the tragedy of Bucha, Mariupol, about the suffering of people.  I’ve tried to convey through our public affairs outreach what we’ve seen at the border here, the rescuing by the Polish people, who are heroes as well, of Ukrainian refugees.  I myself remember going to Medyka, meeting a mom, just coming across the border with two sons, nine and 11, who had been standing for four days in the cold at Medyka, on the Ukrainian side, waiting to cross the border.  The only thing I could think to say to them, because I couldn’t do anything else is “Jestem z ciebie dumny” – “I’m proud of you.”  I couldn’t have stood for four days. I couldn’t have stood for four hours when I was nine years old. And they had done that. And that’s the kind of story that President Zelinskyy has conveyed much more effectively than anyone else about the suffering and tragedy of his people. And he’s been very real, with the offers of help that have come from the west. And I’ve heard very clearly that he has said to leaders who have come to him week after week and say, “what is it that I can do to help?” And he says, “Oh, why not give me the stuff I asked you for before?” I love that.  I think that’s a real leader. Let’s keep it real folks.

Wojciech Rogacin, Polska Times: He’s also a big friend of the Polish president. I had an interview with the Polish President last week.  Do you think there is something new geopolitically created in this region of Europe? built on this common mutual cooperation between Poland and Ukraine and other Eastern European countries?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, it’s an interesting question, because clearly, things have changed rather irreversibly around here. Obviously, the force posture of Russia has changed. They also have initiated force posture change. It will be interesting to see what the NATO Summit and what Western leaders decide in response. And I don’t want to get ahead of those decisions. It is also the case that we support Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership plans completely, and to the hilt. And having been an ambassador to Sweden, for four years, I see how profoundly changed Sweden is, in order to make that decision. It is amazing how much change is involved with that for Sweden and Finland to have made that decision. And it is also the case that that Poland is walking the walk in terms of its military spending.  It is purchasing the most modern and sophisticated military technology.  Secretary Austen has made clear that that purchase also includes a vast panoply of exchanges, training, education of the soldiers using it – because you don’t buy an Abrams tank and learn how to use it just once and then just go around. This is a continuing pedagogical educational experience for the soldiers to know how to use it, and then to continue to deploy the advancements to that technology. And so there are many factors that have changed the strategic footprint of this region, but at core it is a collision between democracy and authoritarianism.  That’s a battle that we must win.

Wojciech Rogacin, Polska Times: In the Western European countries there is some hesitation about sanctions, for example the next phase of sanctions, or sending more military equipment to Ukraine. Do you understand this?

Ambassador Brzezinski: A couple of things. about sanctions: the US has sanctioned more than 400 entities in Russia.  That is a formidable deployment of our weapons of economic warfare.  Sanctions take time to have an effect, because you only feel more and more greatly what you’ve lost over time, but they will have their effect. And when sanctions are in place, it is difficult to lift sanctions; it is technically a difficult legal thing to lift sanctions. So if you are sanctioned, you’re in a pretty big troublesome position, because they aren’t going away anytime soon. And, and you’re in trouble. And I think that there are more and more individuals and entities who are close to Putin, who will be feeling that kind of hurt, because of their support. And because of what they’ve been engaged in. On the flip side, I think it’s imperative in the West, for all of us to understand that we must all share in and join in, in the sacrifice that will be required in order to win this war. And in order to remove Russia from Ukraine.  That involves sacrifice by everyone. And that goes to countries that we’re asking to join us on the sanctions as well.

Wojciech Rogacin, Polska Times: Putin asked for lifting sanctions in exchange for letting grains or foods be transported from Ukraine. What do you think?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, it’s an important fact that food security affects everyone. It affects the people of this region, and it also affects the people of the East as well. And I can only hope and pray that the powers in this part of the world do not use food as a weapon, as well.

Wojciech Rogacin, Polska Times: Do you believe that people close people to Putin could force him to leave if they feel the pain of sanctions, even more?

Ambassador Brzezinski: The people around Putin are the elites around Putin, and also the people of Russia, who because of Putin’s actions are going to be denied the right – and are being denied the right – to do business with the West, to travel to the west, to educate their children in the west, to have the accoutrements of the modern world, that as people I know that they would want to have. They are suffering because of Putin’s actions and his warped and weird dream of resurrecting some kind of crypto Soviet states. Is that worth it to everyone? to effectuate Putin’s odd depiction of success, some kind of quasi Czarist Russia, and not have the accoutrements of participation in the modern world? I just don’t think it adds up for any normal person.

Wojciech Rogacin, Polska Times: At the end, I would like to ask you something quite personal.  You are the son of a great Pole who was the adviser to the American president, which was a great honor also for Poles here in Poland. He was advising the President of the United States, but also he surely gave you many advices.  Which of these advices do you remember the most or you use everyday in your life?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Very interesting question! And I can only at this table remember this right now. I once asked my father,  what is the human quality that he admires most – and that he practices. and he said the Polish word, “lojalnosc” – loyalty – that “lojalnosc” is not just only in one’sself interest, but a good way to live. And I think he did practice that and he wanted his children in every dimension of their lives to practice loyalty.  “Lojalnosc” was very much one thing and a very, very important second lesson that he conveyed to my brother, and my sister and me was “if you want a fulfilling life, do things that are larger than yourself.” It feels so good to give. And if you have the capacity to give, even beyond your own self interest, that is a great way to live. And that’s why he was drawn to public service. And that’s why I think he did so well in public service, because whether it was the Middle East peace agreement – the Camp David Accords – or some of the other strategic things that he was very much responsible for: the return of the Panama Canal to the people of Latin America. It was always in a context of things larger than oneself, by definition, and Poland was always his North Star. And that’s why, for my brother and my sister and me, for me to be here, it’s an unbelievable honor. You have to remember that, in 1977, when President Carter was president elect, one of the very first countries President Carter visited was Poland. And he brought his wife.  They met with Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. And they saw Poland as part and parcel of a struggle against a Soviet system that was evil and repressive. And that very much defined an important part of his professional life. We as his children, and certainly me as a son, took that on board, and have had that as part of our life’s mission. And that’s why I see this Ukraine crisis now, very much in those terms, that there are so many things that we can do. And as the US ambassador, there are so many things that I can join the Polish government and the Polish people on.  That is a great, great honor.

Wojciech Rogacin, Polska Times: Thank you so much for that great lesson. Thank you for sharing that.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Absolutely. Thank you for that question.