Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview with Scripps News

23 February 2023

Jay Strubberg, Scripps News: One year ago, Russian forces invaded Ukraine with the aim of taking the country in a few weeks. But what they found was a staunch Ukrainian resistance and condemnation from the international community.

Chris Stewart, Scripps News: Now, one year later, President Biden is reassuring that support with a trip to the warzone and a tour through neighboring ally Poland,

Lindsay Tuchman, Scripps News: That nation has played a key role in supporting Ukraine since the war began by providing aid, military training and Refugee Assistance. When speaking to NATO leaders on Wednesday, President Biden had this to say about the country’s importance.

President Joseph Biden: Today, as we approach the one year anniversary of Russia’s further invasion, it’s even more important that we continue to stand together. And I think this is proof of this how strongly we feel. That’s why I wanted to meet all of you in person here today. As NATO’s eastern flank, you’re the frontlines of our collective defense. And you know better than anyone what’s at stake in this conflict, not just for Ukraine, but for the freedom of democracies throughout Europe and around the world.

Chris Stewart, Scripps News: Scripps News correspondent Hayley Bull has been with the President in Poland all week, and she joins us now with US Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski, Haley.

Haley Bull, Scripps News: A good morning, Lindsay and Jay. Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Good morning.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Welcome to the US Embassy. Haley, thank you for coming.

Haley Bull, Scripps News: Thank you. We’re thrilled to be here. I want to start: the President just wrapped up a historic visit to Kyiv and Warsaw. We’ve talked with Eastern flank Allied leaders. We’ve talked with people on the ground here in Poland. And they seem to feel reassured by this visit, but we’re at the one year mark. War is continuing. Putin doesn’t show signs of letting up his aggression. So realistically, what impact do you see this visit having on the war and on Poland?

Ambassador Brzezinski: The fundamental impact is that it signals to this part of the world that America has resolve, that collective defense is working, that there’s a unity of purpose, and a shared definition of the challenge about what we face together. That’s the starting point for making a long, enduring push back against what Russia and Putin are doing in Ukraine. I think it was a critically important message. And the message was heard from the President, loud and clear here in Poland.

Haley Bull, Scripps News: Okay.

Jay Strubberg, Scripps News: Ambassador, Poland has been a leading ally of Ukraine. What is the level of interest in Poland to play a larger role in the war efforts and within NATO?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Thank you for this question. You know, for the Poles, what is happening is 1939. Except this time they could do something about it. It’s an invasion of Central Europe by a horrific foreign oppressor. And what has happened in Ukraine has galvanized the spirit of the Polish people at the grassroots level, all across the country of this 40 million person country to want to do something to mobilize to help Ukrainian refugees. And that’s what’s happened here in Poland. Millions of Ukrainian refugees have arrived here since last February. And there is a national policy to place every one of those refugees into someone’s house or home in Poland. And that’s what’s happening. It’s working. And it’s taken a lot of sacrifice from the Polish people to do so. So for the American President to come to Poland, and convey that every square inch of NATO territory is safe, including Poland is really important.

Lindsay Tuchman, Scripps News: That is really interesting what you say about – this is Poland’s chance to be more involved. Over the weekend, Poland’s Prime Minister said that the country is ready to provide its MiG fighter jets if the US leads a wide coalition to transfer aircraft to Ukraine. Can you tell us a little bit more about the status of that decision?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Sure, well, you know, our support of the for the Ukrainian people to be able to defend themselves against Russia’s organized, unprovoked military attack has come in stages. Last February, when the attack first started, the West and America provided javelins to the Ukrainian people so that they could defend themselves in the first stages of that attack. And then when the Ukrainian cities were being bombarded, we provided them HIMARS. Now the tactical support is in the form of tanks. So these tactical steps change as Russia’s attack changes. And Russia can stop this any minute of every day by simply stopping their invasion of Ukraine. They’ve chosen not to, and we choose to help people defend themselves. And a very important message from the US government to the Polish people. And I’ll even say it in Polish “Polska jest bezpieczna; Polska jest zabezpieczona.” Poland is safe. And Poland is secure. For the Poles to hear that from the Americans and the West is profoundly and historically important.

Chris Stewart, Scripps News: And Ambassador with a strong a message as that is, with Russian President Putin suspending the START nuclear pact, given that Poland houses US military and NATO troops and installations, and would be targets, frankly, what have Polish officials said to you about this development?

Ambassador Brzezinski: So you are correct. There are over 10,000 American soldiers in Poland, deployed all across the country, standing shoulder to shoulder with Polish military right now. And I can just kind of put this in a historical context. I did a Fulbright scholarship in Poland 30 years ago. And I remember hearing the Soviet troops occupying the country on their morning jogs. So now with Blackhawk helicopters going across the country, US troops here, it shows that there’s some change here that you can believe in, and the Poles are grateful that we are here. But it is also a country that, given its history is anxious and uncertain. And we want Poland to continue to flourish, and to continue to thrive. And, frankly, it’s working. We’re on the edge of a war zone, and schools are open, businesses are open. The country is a normal country, right on the edge of a war zone. And I think that’s something that the West can be proud of: collective defense is working in Central Europe. That’s never happened before.

Haley Bull, Scripps News: And, Mr. Ambassador, I want to ask you when you talk about the defense, additionally, we saw comments from Mr. Putin today indicating that he wanted to strengthen their nuclear forces. What do you make of those comments? And do you think that raises the security concerns here in Poland at all?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, I’ll ask rhetorically, Haley, what leader in 2023 invokes nuclear weapons? What kind of person is that? And more generally, strategically, what has Putin gained for the Russian people from doing all this? Did he invade Ukraine to push Sweden and Finland into NATO? Because that’s happened? Did he invade Ukraine to push America and Poland, and American and Romania closer together? Because that’s happened? Did he invade Ukraine to basically see a huge bolstering of US forces in Europe? Because that’s happened. The Russian people have gained nothing from this, and this kind of inflammatory and scary rhetoric doesn’t benefit anyone, including the Russian people. Russia would be better off if its neighbors feared it less.

Haley Bull, Scripps News: And one other thing this war did was force millions of people to seek refuge outside of Ukraine. Poland, has hosted about one and a half million refugees not even counting the number of people who have crossed the border. Many of these are children. Poland is expected to continue to be a major host going forward. How do you sustain the support here?

Ambassador Brzezinski: That’s a great question, because it’s a question about capacity. After you’ve hosted over a million people for a year when you expected to host them only for a month. And the US Embassy here in Poland has assiduously looked at polling, talked to key opinion makers, the Polish government and others to see where Poland is in terms of its capacity for refugees. I can report to you that the four largest cities in Poland: Warsaw, Krakow, Poznan, and Wroclaw, are probably at capacity, which means that many of the arriving Ukrainian refugees go out to the smaller towns and villages. But I’m also pleased to report to you that all indicators are that despite their tremendous sacrifice, Poland is willing to accept more refugees. And it’s an incredible story, because this is costing billions of dollars. As the Ukrainian refugees are supported diffusely, not through one national program, but diffusely through families, and these Polish families that are hosting these refugees have taken on a tremendous task. And the fact that they’re willing to do more is one of the great stories of 2023, I feel.

Haley Bull, Scripps News: Sounds like you’re confident that they will continue to be supported as we enter another year of war here.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Haley, I am. In the lead up to the war wars outbreak, we studied assiduously the context in which people would be arriving from Ukraine into Poland and the eight border crossings between Poland and Ukraine. And we were ready for primetime when that happened. Now we are studying the capacity and the limitations of the Poles to take on more refugees and I’m pleased to report that all indicators are that they can take more. We hope that more don’t experience upheaval, but if it happens Poland is ready and the United States is ready to support as it undertakes that next task.

Haley Bull, Scripps News: Okay, thank you so much for joining us this morning Mr. Ambassador we appreciate it.