Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview Rzeczpospolita

12 July 2023

Ambassador Brzezinski:  […] You know, Rzeczpospolita has been a newspaper title seen in the Brzezinski household for years and years and years, so it’s an honor for me to talk with you today.

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita:  Thank you so much, sir.  Thank you so much, Ambassador.  So maybe I can start because I know that your time is very precious and every minute counts.  So I will maybe ask my first question, and this is related to the Vilnius Summit, which is going still on.  You notice in 2008, the formula adopted for Ukraine was that Ukraine is going to be NATO.  Fifteen years later, now we have a formula that the future of Ukraine is in NATO.  Could you explain for us, our readers, is there any difference at all here?

Ambassador Brzezinski:  Any decision on NATO membership is between the 31 Allies and any aspirant country.  The United States has and will continue to discuss with our NATO Allies, and with Ukraine, how we can collectively support Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO, as well as broader Euro-Atlantic integration, the EU and so forth.  I think the NATO Vilnius Summit very much strengthened NATO-Ukraine ties.  President Biden put it pretty clearly at the Summit:  Ukraine will have to make reforms to meet the same standards as any other NATO country before it joins, which he and I fully believe Ukraine can do.  Right now we’re focused on what we can do to support Ukraine’s efforts on the ground to defend itself against Russia’s aggression.  In my perspective, the people of Ukraine are winning, the people of Ukraine are proving their determination to defend their freedom and their skill on the battlefield.  We have to continue to ensure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend its people and its territory against Russian aggression.  And we will do that, Jędrzej, for as long as it takes.

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita:  Ambassador, you know that Poland has a different position on this.  Poland, as Ukraine and President Zelenskyy, wanted a timetable.  I did an interview with Ambassador Bagger from Germany, and he said that there was an agreement in the framework of the so-called quad, which means U.S., UK, Germany, and France.  Don’t you have the impression, Ambassador, that if Polish foreign policy would be less confrontational, Poland would have more influence on this key decision?

Ambassador Brzezinski:  Jędrzej, you know, both the United States and Poland have been clear throughout this conflict – and I think we’ve been meshed together on this – that is that we are committed to supporting the people of Ukraine as they defend their country against Russian aggression.  NATO today is more united than it’s been in decades, and that’s thanks in no small part to the leadership of President Biden.  That unity of purpose has been critical to our collective efforts to support Ukraine.  And you know, Jędrzej, any relationship between two countries involves a combination of shared and differing interests.  It is absolutely clear that one shared interest between the United States and Poland has been supporting the people of Ukraine, being open to support Ukraine’s aspirations to integrate with the West, and to do so for as long as it takes.

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita:  President Biden – you mentioned him – he was twice in Warsaw; he didn’t come as yet to Berlin and to Paris.  One can have an impression Poland became so important, strategically, after the beginning of this war, that the U.S. could give up on the independence of the judiciary, on the freedom of the media, on the rule of law.  Is this, Ambassador, the right impression:  that Poland became so important with this war that the U.S. is ready to give up on this and not to pressure any more on this in Poland?

Ambassador Brzezinski:  No.  No, that’s not correct, Jędrzej.  Our priorities in our special friendship with Poland are interdependent to each other.  There’s the military cooperation priority.  There’s the humanitarian relief priority.  There’s the economic priority.  And then there’s also the democracy and rule of law priority.  U.S.-Poland relations, Jędrzej, are driven by a profound strategic commonality that links national interests with universal values, including democracy, rule of law, equality, human rights.  Our history, our close cultural affinities and strong economic ties, have laid the groundwork for an ambitious shared agenda to strengthen further our partnership through joint practical action.  But I really want to emphasize this, Jędrzej:  underpinning that agenda must be a shared embrace by both the United States and by Poland, of those shared values and democratic principles.

By renewing democracy at home and abroad, the United States and Poland will help win the battle of democracy versus autocracy.  And in practice, that means ensuring a level playing field, whether in fair and transparent competition to attract new investment, or fair and transparent competition to win votes in elections.  It means steadfast commitment by all participants in the public space – elected officials, civil servants, the media – to uphold the integrity of our cherished democratic processes, and institutions, including a commitment to free speech and a total rejection of hate speech of any kind.  Not instead to seek to undermine or erode the ability of the people to choose their representatives or their faith in public institutions.  And it means an understanding that a healthy democracy is only possible if our citizens have access to reliable, accurate information, as well as a chance to hear and consider different points of view.

We know, Jędrzej, what the alternative looks like.  Poland lived through decades of this harsh reality under Soviet-imposed communist rule, and I know that Poles have no desire to return to a time when autocrats intentionally misled the public and used repression to silence or worse.  Poland’s transformation over the last 30 years – and I was here first 32 years ago as a Fulbright Scholar – [in] the last 32 years, the Polish transformation is first and foremost a testament to the determination and hard work of the Polish people in building a democratic, prosperous, and secure country.  The unity of purpose across the Polish political landscape involved doing what was necessary to get Poland into NATO and the EU, and to realize a shared vision of a future integrated with the free world.  And with the collapse of communism, Poland’s leaders from different political backgrounds, and through successive governments, left and right, pushed forward broad, meaningful market reforms, and built democratic institutions rooted with the respect for the rule of law.

The U.S. has been a proud partner of all Poles pushing for a brighter and more democratic future.  In turn, U.S. companies found Poland an attractive place to do business and are a big part of Poland’s economic success.  And that helped young Poles invest in themselves, develop skills in leading industries, and adopt a bit of the American drive to innovate.  Poland today is one of the most dynamic economies, not just in Europe, but in the world, and part of that is the legal certainty that comes with the practice of the rule of law.

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita:  And are you, Ambassador, afraid for the future of Polish democracy, when you see for example, the so-called ‘Lex Tusk’?  There was a very strong position of the Department of State on this.  This could be interpreted as an attempt to take away the main the leader of the opposition before the elections.  Are you afraid for Polish democracy?

Ambassador Brzezinski:  I think the starting point for my answer, Jędrzej, is the United States takes no sides in Polish elections.  Polish elections are about the Polish people choosing the parties that will lead the government, and this decision has nothing to do with us.  We will of course, work with the government Poles select for themselves.  Our strong, strategic, bilateral ties go beyond politics.

We will continue to reinforce that nothing we say nor any individual meeting should be misconstrued as support for one party or individual over another.  We have already seen attempts to depict us supporting one side or not doing enough to support the other; such claims are incorrect or assume that we should take sides, which we’re not going to do.  So we’ve been attacked in the press, in some cases in prose more based on fantastical conspiracy theories than grounded in reality.  As is the proper role of an ambassador and an embassy, I will continue to engage with representative of all political parties, the business sector, civil society, and others.  And our diplomats do the same at the U.S. Embassy, and we’re going to continue to address shared values important to the United States and our Allies.  Of course, the Polish Embassy does the same in the United States, as it should.

Now, no doubt articles and commentary will continue to appear from partisan sources who tried to persuade their readers that a chance photo with one individual should be interpreted to mean an endorsement of whatever cause they espouse while ignoring all the meetings my team and I have done with those who may have the opposite point of view.  No one should be fueled by the purveyors of disinformation.

And on ‘Lex Tusk,’ the United States spoke clearly and directly and in one voice about our concerns, and I’ll leave it at that.

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita:  Ambassador, you mentioned that both sides, the U.S. and Poland should be linked by common values, democracy, and rule of law.  Do you think that there could be a risk for those values if Donald Trump wins the election at the end of next year?

Ambassador Brzezinski:  You know, I work for one president – we have one president at a time – and I work for President Joe Biden.  I’m so proud that he’s leading this coalition as ably and as in united a fashion as he’s doing.  I don’t want to comment further on that.

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita:  Of course, since this war started, Poland is on the front line [of] NATO but Germany [has the] bases for helping Poland.  So two key Allies.  You see those two key Allies confronting each other all the time.  It’s even more difficult; it’s impossible to to do things which would seem to be simple.  I mean this operations facility for the Leopard tanks or the [uncertainty] that the Germans will keep those Patriot missiles for six months here, six months more.  How do you see this, Ambassador?  What is the reaction of the U.S. when the U.S. see this confrontation of those two key Allies?

Ambassador Brzezinski:  Look, we’ve been very clear, Jędrzej, that we do not want to see any cleavage in NATO, especially given the Russian attack on Ukraine.  There’s only one person who benefits from a cleavage between Poland and Germany, and that’s Putin.  This is not something that would benefit the West.  I was so proud to join my colleague, the German Ambassador to Poland, Thomas Bagger, when we first planned, and then bore witness to a joint Polish-German-U.S. live-fire tank exercise in early April near the Suwałki Gap.  That’s what’s important for the people of Poland, that kind of direct manifestation of security for our people.

The strength of NATO is that despite our differences, we’ve been always able to unite around our primary task:  to defend each other and to keep our people safe.  In a more contested security environment, North American and European Allies must continue to stand strong as one, united NATO against the threats and challenges we face.  Alliance unity, Jędrzej, is more important than ever, as we face the biggest security crisis since World War II caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine, amidst other threats and challenges.

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita:  You know that just before the Vilnius Summit, the German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius announced that Germany is going to send, on a fixed base, 4000 soldiers to Lithuania.  Would you, Ambassador, the standing act – Russia and NATO Standing Act [ed. NATO–Russia Founding Act] – and especially the provision saying that there couldn’t be on the eastern flank, important, huge NATO forces on a fixed basis – is over?  That the Americans troops could stay here, not on a rotational basis, but on a fixed basis?  And, importantly that this is a completely new switch?

Ambassador Brzezinski:  You know, Jędrzej, the security challenge that we have here on the eastern flank of NATO is not just a Polish problem or an American problem; it’s important for others to share-in and join-in in that regard, and I’m so glad that Germany is doing that in different ways.  They are stepping up for security in this region in important ways.  But I will say this:  one thing that was history making, that was really catalyzed by President Biden – because there were many people who are intelligent and influential who weren’t so sure that this should happen – is the fact that we now have our first permanent U.S. military facility in NATO’s eastern flank, and that’s in Poland, in Poznań, Poland.  The V Corps U.S. Army headquarters in Poznań, which will advance interoperability in terms of military equipment and technology, preparations for exercises, joint coordination, and the like.  That’s the kind of step that’s happened in the last year that truly makes the Polish people safer and more secure.

I mean, we live at a moment – you have to kind of step back for a second, Jędrzej – we live at a historic moment in Poland, where after 200 plus years, during which Poles have fought for American freedom and Americans have fought for Polish freedom, we live at a moment for the first time when Poland is truly secure, because of American-Polish military and security collaboration.  And I as Ambassador have made it mission number one to really advance the American military footprint here in Poland.  That permanent designation is something that we will be able to hand to our children and say, this country, Poland became safer while we could do something about it.  That is not lost on the people who threaten and seek to do us harm; that is not lost on Russia.  It is an incredibly important designation that never happened before in this country.

I think that you have to take on board the value of that, that that’s not going away.  Of course there are rotational troops coming through, but we have our permanent footprint here.  If you had told me five years ago that that would happen, I’m not sure I would believe you.  But it’s it’s out of this crisis, that we’ve been able to seize opportunity.  The Poles have shown great resilience and great humanity in their embrace of Ukrainian refugees.  For that my President Joe Biden has said, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.’  And the U.S. has stepped up in visible and less visible ways to guarantee the security of Poland and to protect every square inch of Poland.  I think that it is important to note, this is the first time in history Poland has been truly secure with the world’s only superpower making that absolute commitment to it, despite the fact that you literally border on our on a warzone.

Moderator:  The last question, okay?  The last question, Jędrzej.

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita:  This is my last question, Ambassador, on nuclear sharing:  Do you think that this cooperation could be enlarged, developed to this field as well?  You know that the Polish authorities are showing some interest in the nuclear sharing program?

Ambassador Brzezinski:  I have heard that, and the United States and its NATO Allies are continually evaluating the evolving security environment in Europe.  Currently, the United States has no plan to deploy nuclear weapons beyond existing weapons storage sites in NATO.  As you know, it is U.S. policy to neither confirm nor deny the presence or absence of nuclear weapons at any general or specific location, and I don’t have anything further to share on that particular topic.

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita:  Thank you so much, Ambassador.

Ambassador Brzezinski:  Thank you.  I’m part of a great team here.  We appreciate working with you.  And I look forward to seeing the piece in print.  Thank you.