Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview with Rzeczpospolita Newspaper

4 March 2022

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: The question which people ask themselves now: is this war is going to come to us across the border? The U.S. had fantastic intelligence before the war, we saw that everything which was published did occur, unfortunately. Now NATO is discussing this No Fly Zone. But still, we have quite a lot of incidents with this nuclear facility and, as well, the possibility of Putin using nuclear arms. So would you exclude totally that this would cross the border, or do you think that there could be a moment when NATO will have to engage because the tragedy over there will be such that we could not just stay here?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Let’s start from several months ago, regarding what the United States has been doing with its allies. Because months ago, under President Biden’s leadership, we have been sharing Confidential, Secret intelligence with our friends and allies, to say, these are the defensive and offensive structures of the Russian military. This is what we are hearing regarding what the political leadership of Russia intends to do with it. And we have been giving play-by-play steps regarding what you, Poland, a frontline state of NATO needs to anticipate in order to address this threat. And there is absolutely no reason we would stop that practice now. Because now the invasion has begun, we now have a human tragedy in terms of a sea of people coming to the Polish-Ukrainian border. And these aren’t just Polish problems. They’re not just European problems. They’re international problems. And you can be assured that the Americans are here to join you.  

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: If so, Ambassador, could you tell us what we can expect in the worse-case scenario.  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: There are many different scenarios that could occur, because we are not in the craven mind of Vladimir Putin. We are thinking through every contingency, and every contingency means the least dangerous outcome from all of this. It also means the most dangerous, of all of these things. We do not want to have a war with Russia. We don’t want NATO to have a war with Russia. So we are thinking through how to prevent and stop that. We don’t want Poland to have a war with Russia. We’re thinking of different contingencies as it pertains to that. And lastly, we want to contain and even convince the Russians to pull back and to allow people ultimately to return to their homes in Ukraine. Though that is the panoply of contingencies, which could occur, all of which we are gaming into with the technology and hardware to back up Polish troops and American troops standing shoulder to shoulder in this country. Same thing in Romania. Same thing in other European landmass areas.  * 

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: Yes, but Ambassador maybe you saw this story in The New York Times that disappeared, like two hours ago, that if Putin is cornered, then his temptation could be to double down, as they say in the New York Times, and to increase this conflict to Europe as well. Do you think that this is bullshit what the New York Times is writing or is this a danger?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: But that is a contingency, right? That would be a contingency, a possibility, which we would absolutely be thinking about.   

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: You don’t exclude this, that this could happen.   

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: That is a contingency that we are absolutely thinking about, and are well-positioned and well-prepared to defend against. I want to emphasize that because I think what you’re trying to say is that we haven’t thought of those.   

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: No, no, I am trying as a journalist. I absolutely don’t think so.   

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: You have to remember that part of this is trust. When we first began sharing this intelligence back in October, November, there were some people who were saying, you’re like the old tale of “the boy who cried wolf.” This couldn’t be what happens. President Putin will not invade Ukraine. He’ll just destabilize it by going to the borders, he’s not going to cross or then he’s only going to cross a little bit, but he’s not going to try to take Kyiv or he’s not going to try to take Odesa. So we’ve been hearing lots of different variations of how we are wrong. We are also examining what is happening and thinking through as positions change, as people deploy in different directions, what could happen? Obviously, there are worst-case scenarios for which we are fully prepared.  

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: Yes, but yeah, but for example, this war is not going in accordance to what he sought, obviously. And people are saying that.  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: That’s a good point. Yes, that’s a good point that it’s not going in the way that President Putin thought, in that I think that he thought that this would be a cakewalk. And where now he has to report back to Russian mothers and fathers the death of their children.  

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: Yes. But I you think that he could use tactical nuclear arms in order to put it right from his point of view, or do you exclude this, Ambassador?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: We’re thinking through every contingency, the fact that as a leader, he would invoke the nuclear dimension shows how absolutely craven and inhumane he is, because he knows that fear is a feeling that every human being has in their body. And it’s a very strong motivation, and few things spark fear in people’s guts more than invoking the nuclear scenario, the fact that he’s used those words, is profoundly inhumane and profoundly irresponsible. There will be a day when there will be a reckoning of what he has done in a much more fulsome way. But we are thinking through every possibility, with General Andrzejczak, the CHOD here, and the Chief of Defense, and others. Thinking through every possible scenario, in three floors above you right now is a presentation to our country team by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Milley, who, along with General Cavoli have absolutely a dynamic force posture that like water flows to where the threat is. And that is the way we think of these things. And we feel that the contingencies, including the worst ones, that you have described, are being well thought through. 

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: Do you think this nuclear threat from Putin is something for people to fear, a real possibility, or not?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: NATO is an alliance in which we are completely locked into.  An attack on you is an attack on us. And I don’t think that a nuclear attack would be treated as anything other than the most extremely serious possibility.  

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: Not about an attack on Poland, but to use nuclear arms inside Ukraine?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: It is also a gruesome thing to think about, and we are thinking through all contingencies. And so I assure you, we are thinking about every possible form of inhumane strike that he will make on the Ukrainians because he’s showing that he’s willing to do that, with the various cluster bombs, as I’ve read, and attacks on humanitarian groups and buildings, even on kindergartens. I mean, who does that? And it’s a calamity that we are thinking through and briefing with the Poles very, very closely. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is here to absolutely develop synchronicity in terms of the protection of Poland, and of Europe and of NATO, because the Poles are part of this. And we have their backs. And I think that incredibly important for you to convey. I absolutely stand in lockstep with the Poles to keep them and therefore us safe, because we don’t see a difference because of NATO.  

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: You know, of course, the 1997 NATO signed an agreement, the Standing Act with Russia at the time, there was a limitation on the number of troops, is it still valid after what Putin did? Or you don’t think so, Ambassador?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: We’ve got 10,000 troops now, more than ever in Poland, which is a big military footprint. They are all on Polish bases.  

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: Would you say they are here on a rotational basis or are they here for good? 

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: We cannot know what will happen next week, next month. And so we are thinking through various planning contingencies, so that if this is a long conflict or a short conflict, we can act accordingly. It does look like President Putin is pulverizing big cities in Ukraine, which will take time to fix. We have a humanitarian catastrophe which the world is bearing witness to the humanitarian instincts of the Poles. And the Poles should be incredibly proud of how they are being viewed. The word gościnność is one of my favorite Polish words, because I’ve been a beneficiary of gościnność my entire life with Polish people that my late father, Zbigniew, knew. Then when I came to Poland, me and him, my late father, and Janusz Onyszkiewicz, drove to Przemysł, where my father grew up partly, and we visited his home. I have seen the word gościnność in practice, my entire life. Now Ukrainian families are doing that as well. I met with a with a Polish Think Tank leader this morning, he was really tired. And he apologized. Because yesterday, he welcomed not one, but two Ukrainian families to move into his apartment. I’m really impressed by that.  It’s fine for you to be tired. You know that you’ve given me one of the better excuses I’ve ever heard of for being tired. That is an incredible story. And I have done my best to bear witness to that to the American people through the media, because I want the American people to see what the Poles are doing. And that is being reported.   

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: This 1997 agreement, does it still stand, Ambassador, or not? Those limitations, do they still stand, after what Putin did?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I’m not going to directly address that agreement. I’m going to say that we have a really big American footprint here. Our military leadership is looking as needed to bolster and reinforce whatever presence is here. What I think we should look at very carefully, is the positioning now and based on what happens in the east a couple of weeks from now and get a sense of the truth of the trajectory of things. This is shaped by news developments. The news today is very scary. We are reacting accordingly. I don’t feel limited by the circumstances, based on the news developments that are coming at us. I’m not talking about disagreement. I’m talking about the news developments shaping the force posture right now. And the force posture is in a dynamic posture and place so that like water, our troops and our military alongside Polish troops and the Polish military can move to where the threat is. I feel very comfortable to say that Poland is safe, that Poland is stable, and that Poland is secure. There is the possibility that on the other side of the border, in Belarus, there will be short-range nuclear arms. This is a bit similar to the situation in the beginning of the 1980s, when the U.S. brought these Pershing missiles, do you think that there could be a situation in which there will be a need to put this kind of nuclear arms in on the Polish soil if they are there on the other side of the border?  I think that it’s premature to address that particular question now, because these are very delicate, sensitive contingencies that you are raising, we are thinking through all of that, I can tell you that if Poland is threatened from the kinds of attacks that can be conducted by missiles, and in other ways, we have thought about that. And I can report to you that we are absolutely safe and secure in terms of the way we would protect and defend critical targets or potential targets in Poland. And that’s all I want to say on that.   

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: We are preparing for a long conflict. There are more and more arms being brought to Ukraine, like the Stingers and Javelin and others. Do you think that Poland could play the role of Pakistan played in the Afghan conflict?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I want to emphasize that Poland is playing an absolutely important and visible humanitarian role right now. And that’s important for the world to see. The humanitarian piece is critical because this is a major lift that someone has to do. Poland is right now the neighbor and it has to do it first. That humanitarian role is being supported by the United States, we have put in place in southeastern Poland, a USAID DART team (Disaster Assistance Reaction Team), which are the best of the best of the folks we deploy. They understand development and assistance, and support so that people are fed, they’re given water, they’re given medical assistance of all kinds, and that they have a place to sleep at night. We are working with the UN, we’re working with the Poles, and others in terms of that. We do not want Poland or us dragged into a direct conflict with Russia. I can’t emphasize that enough.   

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: Of course, but Afghanistan did not, but won with the USSR. And your father was fundamental in this story.  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: And so at this point, there is an incredibly important, defense-bolstering role that the Americans and the poles are doing together to defend the Eastern Flank of NATO. There is an incredibly important humanitarian role that the Americans and Poles and Europeans are working together to address this large amorphous mass of people coming to the west. I don’t think that comparisons to Pakistan, or to other countries, where the conditions are very different than the conditions here is the right one. This is an absolutely central threat on the European landmass. We are absolutely, assiduously committed to the security, political, military, and economic stability of this part of the world. We have thought through contingencies in terms of what destabilization might look like. And I am absolutely certain that we have in place the tools to make sure this place remains stable, even though tragedies are occurring in Ukraine.  

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: In the longer term, do you think that this war could be won? And the Putin regime could fall in on the scale of years, not just weeks, let’s say of days.  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Well, the tragedy that’s been created in Ukraine, I think, because of what has been broken means that the recovery, by definition is going to be long term, because he’s done already horrific damage to infrastructure and to people’s lives. And pulling that back together will be difficult. In the long term, President Putin has shown that he is not an effective leader of Russian people who themselves want connectivity with the rest of the world. You and I both know, Russians who want themselves and their children to be able to travel, do business, get education, and take part in the international community. It defies belief that President Putin’s vague imagery of a restoration of a Soviet or czarist context would be more important to his people than connectivity and legitimacy with the rest of the world. By definition, because of that, I think he is limited his leadership and his efficacy. I think that that’s an important way for him to think about this as he makes his decisions on his next steps.  

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: So he will lose.  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I believe he’s going to lose.