Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview with Michael Smerconish on Sirius Radio

27 May 2022

Ambassador Brzezinski: Thank you for coming to Poland Thank you so much for saying that. Poland is the frontline state of NATO, when it comes to the Ukraine crisis, and the Ukraine crisis at bottom is about the collision between authoritarianism and democracy. We do not know yet how this conflict will end. But we know that we are supporting the Ukrainian people as they fight to push Russia out of their country and supporting them to the hilt are Poland and the United States working together.  Michael, for Poland, this is 1939. This is the invasion of a Slavic country, with the people trying to fight back, and the Poles want to help. This is what the Ukraine crisis is for Poland. And it’s an amazing story because, unlike 1939, you now have people getting into their cars, driving to the border, picking up Ukrainian families, and taking them to put them into people’s homes and apartments. Never before, Michael, has a country had a national policy to place every arriving refugee into someone’s home or apartment. And that is what Poland has done. It has seen 3 million Ukrainians cross the border.  There are eight border crossings between Poland and Ukraine. They have positioned logistics so that Ukrainians arriving in Poland can be taken to different parts of the country and given what are called PESEL numbers, registration numbers, that allows their children to go to school, that gives them the right to work, that gives them access to state funded medical services, and essentially made them for all practical purposes, Polish citizens. Poland has acted like a humanitarian superpower. And I’m honored Michael to be a US Ambassador to a humanitarian superpower. It is heartwarming to see. It is heartwarming to see how the Poles have reacted.  Michael, it’s an incredible story. I remember going to the border here, the Polish Ukraine border, early on in this crisis, literally I think just a couple of days after the February 24 invasion of Ukraine by Russia. And I met many refugees. And you have to remember that most of the refugees coming across the border are women and children, because military aged men are not allowed to leave Ukraine. They’re compelled to stay there and undertake the fight. And so I was meeting women and children. And I remember one mom and her two sons stand out in my mind.  Her sons were aged nine and 11. And I asked them, and this was in February, how long they had been standing at the border to cross and they said four days. And the only thing I could give them was simply to say to them: “Jestem z ciebie dumny” – “I’m proud of you” – to the two boys. And that was so little in comparison to what the Poles have done. The Poles have made them for all essential purposes Polish citizens with access to all the support services. It has been an incredible story and these refugees who could be scattered across the parks, and you know, open areas of Europe are instead still here in Poland, in people’s homes, and it’s been a good news story out of crisis.  That’s rare. Thank you for saying that.  Lech Walesa was a freedom fighter. He hopped the shipyard fence in 1980 to stand up against the communist regime, and against the Soviet KGB’s operations in Poland at the time. And in so doing created the Solidarity Movement.  What you have President Zelenskyy doing now is deploying a 21st century information war to defend against a 20th century conventional war attack by Putin. And you know what? Zelinskyy is winning, because he has the world united around a purpose to support the Ukrainian people. And he has developed around the world a shared a definition of the challenge. I don’t think Putin expected that. You see, by Putin’s quixotic reactions to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, what he has invoked as that’s happened, that shows that he is scrambling. So I think that the reaction has been amazing. And we have to remain united and in solidarity with the Ukrainian people for as long as this crisis lasts. And it may last a long time, Michael, and it may test our capacity for support. And this is not just a Polish problem. It’s important that others share in and join in in this struggle. This afternoon, I hosted here at the Embassy, a Polish American, Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube.  American businesses like YouTube and others are standing up for the people of Poland and for the people of Ukraine, making donations and offering support like never before. And it’s needed like never before as well. Well, thank you, Michael, for asking that. Because I do think that this requires long term attention because Putin will have to be forced out of Ukraine, I unfortunately think, and that may take some time. And we do have a short attention span.  I’m happy that Congress recently passed multibillion dollar legislation to support Ukraine, and country’s collateral to Ukraine, for their fight against Putin and their help for the Ukrainian people. But more will have to be done. I’m proud of the 12,600 US soldiers spread out all across Poland, all on Polish bases here to be prepared and ready to defend every inch of NATO territory, including Poland. But we will have to really make sure that we can persevere over the long term, because I don’t think that this is a short term crisis. That’s a great question. I’ve lived in Poland when it was not a NATO member. I was a Fulbright scholar in Poland between 1991 and 1993, just after the collapse of communism and the emergence of democratic rule in this country, but this country had not joined NATO or the EU yet. And there was an anxiety, an uncertainty, in this country regarding what Russia would do next. That doesn’t exist here now, even though Russia has invaded Ukraine, Poland’s immediate Eastern neighbor.  And I think that has everything to do, Michael, with Poland being a NATO member, that it has given the country a sense of security, and a sense of anchoring in the West, and a knowledge that the West is committed to its defense, that it has allowed, in turn, the Polish people to kind of take a little bit of a risk, and that is welcome openly and with warm hearts 3 million refugees.  Instead of pushing them westward to another country, they have invited them to stay here.  And I think that has a lot to do with the sense of security that NATO membership gave Poland. Well, it was incredibly important for President Biden to come to this country. You have to remember that the first place he went to was the the eastern border city of Rzeszow, very close to the border of Poland and Ukraine, to make clear that the US values and embraces every square inch of this NATO member, Poland, and its security and its prosperity. And I think that was an incredibly important signal. And then President Biden did what he does best, he showed empathy, empathy for the people of Ukraine, who were in the logistics centers here being processed.  He visited them at the stadium here in Warsaw, to hug them and to convey to them that we care, that what has happened to them is inexcusable, and that we condemn the genocide that President Putin has initiated in Ukraine. Those were incredibly important messages. I’m proud of our president, and I’m proud of his instincts. I’m proud of his conviction. I’m proud that his finest hour, I feel, is this crisis in Ukraine.  There is no American more steeped in knowledge or network than President Joe Biden, when it comes to American-European security. And Poland and Ukraine are the focal point of that now.  This man is informed; he understands what is at stake. And we have a leader that has the exact right balance in terms of how to handle this, because we don’t want the conflict to spread.  Instead, we want Putin thrown out of Ukraine. Absolutely, and at the same time maintaining allied unity.  Not every country has the same perspective with regard to what is happening in Ukraine. And what I so value about President Biden is the trust that other world leaders have in his judgment. And he’s been able to maintain allied consensus at a time when there are differences of opinion on what will work, what could work, in terms of pushing Russia out of Ukraine. … were that we need to support the people of Ukraine in their fight against Russia. This is an existential threat for democracies in Europe. And we need to ensure that the people of Ukraine succeed in the stated goal of what we are trying to do, and that is to force the invading Russian forces out of Ukraine. Well, you know, it’s funny because my late father Zbigniew Brzezinski almost changed his name when he became a naturalized US citizen at a federal court in Boston back in the 1950s. And he almost changed it to the word “Birch” because Brzezinski is derived from “birch tree” in the Polish language. And you know, Michael, I’m so glad he didn’t. Yes, I’ve had to teach people all my life how to spell it, but I’m proud that he didn’t do that. I love it. I love it. Absolutely love it. Thank you, Michael. We’ll see you soon.