Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview with TVN24

24 February 2022

Katarzyna Kolenda-Zaleska, TVN24: Good morning, Mr. Ambassador.  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Good morning. Kasia. Thank you for having me.  

Katarzyna Kolenda-Zaleska, TVN24: You begin your new mission as U.S. Ambassador to Poland in a very difficult time. Ukraine was attacked this morning. The war has just started. What does it mean for you as an ambassador to a country which borders Ukraine? 

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: As the new U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Kasia, the crisis in Ukraine is top of mind. And I’ll simply say the following three points in Polish so that nothing is lost in translation. Polska jest bespieczna. Polska jest zabespieczona. Ameryka stoi ramie w ramie z Polska jako partnerem w NATO. Those are important points.  We now have 10,000 U.S. soldiers, including our fiercest warriors, in Poland, all on Polish bases. We are ready for every contingency. And as I said before: Poland is safe. 

Katarzyna Kolenda-Zaleska, TVN24: Thank you for your statement. I want to come back to the beginning of your mission.  How does it change your mission right now?  Because when you came to Poland the situation was totally different.  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: There’s nothing that focuses the mind like a crisis. And I will also say, never miss the opportunity to seize opportunity from a crisis.  And I feel that 4 weeks into being in Poland and two days ago I presented my credentials to President Duda.  We are working with synchronicity with the Polish government and with the Polish opposition like I would have never imagined when I was in Ambassador school in October, preparing to come to Poland. 

Katarzyna Kolenda-Zaleska, TVN24: Have you spoken to the president, to the prime minister recently? 

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I had lunch with President Duda on Monday and then I spent half an hour with him, one-on-one on Tuesday, and we focused very much on this crisis. And we focused on the threats that Poland faces that could be a spillover from the East. First and foremost, I want to emphasize there has never been greater alignment between American forces and Polish forces as there are today. Our soldiers are literally training with Polish soldiers in the forests, in the fields, in central Poland, in eastern Poland, and using the best technology and military weaponry that we can offer. Our HIMARS, our tanks, our F-15s, our F-35s, are all on their way or in Poland to defend this homeland.  We have joint missions underway and it is an alignment that sends a message, as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Friday when he visited Poland, that should be unmistakable to President Putin. That the Americans and Poles standing together are ready for any contingency. 

Katarzyna Kolenda-Zaleska, TVN24: I will ask you about the troops, because President Biden sent additional troops to Eastern Europe, including Poland, and yesterday to the Baltic States. Normally such decisions take weeks or months.  Is America ready to send more troops to Poland as soon as possible? 

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Well let’s talk, Kasia, about what happened in just the last two weeks.  Before two weeks ago we had 5,000 U.S. troops stationed in Poland, in Powidz, in Poznan, and with the EDF in eastern Poland.  Two weeks ago, President Biden announced that he is sending the 82nd airborne and neighbors of the 82nd airborne to Poland. Within five days they were here on the ground. In addition, materiel, helicopters, other weaponry has been transferred to Poland, so that we are poised to move with versatility and with dynamism to where the threat comes from.  Really dynamic force posture is the way we, the Americans, do military, so that we can quickly flow like water with gravity to the conflict. And we feel that we have a posture now in Poland that can quickly move north, south, east, west to wherever the concern is. We are closely monitoring the border crossings.  We, the American Embassy, have set up a Welcome Center in Przemyśl and we are monitoring closely the border crossings in Medyka, in Korczowa, and we have actually seen very few people in the last day or so coming across those borders. Really just a trickle. Even our Welcome Center in Przemysl has only seen just a few calls. And, of course, we are prepared for a much larger humanitarian crisis. Very important, I can report to you, that I feel the Polish government is as well.  We are working together with synchronicity with the Duda administration. We are working closely with the Minister of Interior here, so that we are in synchronicity with the border guards with other services that can allow, first of all, us to contain the security situation, and then second to manage a humanitarian flow from Ukraine into Poland, should that happen.  I’ve been really impressed by both the Polish government’s posture on this, and also you take a look at, for example, Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, he was in Kyiv a couple of days ago. And he said very generously: Warsaw welcomes Ukrainian refugees. That’s an act of leadership that we all hope to project. It shows that we care about Ukraine.  

Katarzyna Kolenda-Zaleska, TVN24: Do you have any new information from the Department of State that you could share with us about the situation in Ukraine? 

 Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: When morning starts in the United States, President Biden will brief Americans and therefore the world on this attack. This attack is premeditated, it’s unprovoked, it’s unjustified.  And he’s going to make that case to everyone, including the Chinese, that what has happened is absolutely wrong, and that Russia and Putin needs to be isolated. I think that we will hear about the full deployment of what I would call the economic weaponry, Kasia, of the United States. And I think we began to see that yesterday when the president initiated another set of sanctions to really come down hard on those key, consequential industries that hit the people around President Putin the most hard. Whether it’s aeronotics, whether its engineering, we are seeing a set of sanctions being deployed like never before. And NordStream 2 is being shut down.  NordStream 2 was a cash machine, it was an ATM for President Putin which they spent $11 billion putting together.  Now that’s over.  How does that make the Russian people feel, that $11 billion has just been flushed down the toilet? And we have a full assortment of export controls and sanctions that should make any country dealing with Russia think very closely about the entities on the Russian side with whom they are dealing.  Because no company wants to receive an email or a message from the U.S. Department of Justice saying, “Please preserve all of your correspondence with this company, we’re conducting an investigation.” That’s game over for a company.  Those are the kinds of sanctions and export controls we will be initiating. They will be serious for anyone in alignment with Russian entities that can be linked to Putin and the Russian government. 

Katarzyna Kolenda-Zaleska, TVN24: OK, here we are, this is an invasion on the entire Ukraine.  Sanctions have been imposed.  More are expected later today.  Sec Blinken cancelled his meeting with Lavrov.  There are no signs of a meeting or telephone call between President Biden and President Putin.  Do you believe there is still room for diplomacy, even when the war has started?  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Well the war has started and there will probably be catastrophic loss of life, maybe into the thousands in Ukraine. And how tragic. What a vulnerable country that has kind of stumbled along since the collapse of communism and since the collapse of the Soviet empire, that has tried to get on its legs economically and politically, and among the most vulnerable in the world. And to attack them is really a statement of the lack of humanity of the Russian leadership and the amorality of the Russian leadership, and I think that is worth thinking about, because it is a sad statement in terms of Russia’s posture today.  There is always an off ramp for diplomacy. And I am sure there are those around President Putin who would prefer that rather than warfare.  As Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said when he was in Warsaw and Powidz last Friday: Do the math. The Russians have less than 200,000 men under arms in their military. NATO has 1.9 million men under arms with the most sophisticated weaponry that is technologically possible. How is this going to end if there is a collision between NATO and Russia? We all know how that’s going to go. That simply does not make sense for the Russian people. So I’m hoping that the math prevails on those around Putin, to convince him to take one of the many off ramps that Secretary Blinken, that National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, have offered to the Russian leadership in spades. Those will continue to exist going forward. We are also going to go toe-to-toe with the Russian military as their steps advance and if they ascend, we’re prepared to do that as well.  We don’t welcome it, we don’t embrace it, we don’t want to sound dangerous. But you don’t need to sound dangerous to be dangerous. This is a big mistake for President Putin. 

Katarzyna Kolenda-Zaleska, TVN24: There seems to be a worry that this might turn into a larger conflict.  

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I think that the spillover possibilities of this exist and the victims are, first and foremost the poor people of Ukraine. Our USAID Administrator, our development assistance administrator, Samantha Power, one of the smartest people in development and assistance in the United States has been consulting closely with the Polish government on the various contingencies and logistics that have to exist for a mass outflow of people. You know, what many people don’t realize is actually the generosity of the Polish people so far. When it comes to Ukraine. There are as many as 4 million Ukrainians who live in Poland. That’s an amazing story in itself that too few of my fellow countrymen know about. Four million–that is a big number. And, as you know, Kasia, people go where their family is. And so we should expect a large number of Ukrainians coming to where their family is in Poland. And we want to help the Poles logistically think through that. I’ve been on the phone with various American NGOs help prepare for that. But this is a big capacity issue, that we are in alignment with the Poles to think through and then to execute if it becomes a reality.  

Katarzyna Kolenda-Zaleska, TVN24: I’m going to ask you about American citizens and diplomacy in Ukraine. Are they coming to Poland? 

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Some of them have come to Poland and they are here. Others remain in Ukraine. 

Katarzyna Kolenda-Zaleska, TVN24: Okay, I want to ask you about coming back to this situation. Is this a new Cold War or something totally different. Because someone described it’s a new Cold War. 

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: Yeah, it’s in certain ways, Kasia, it is back to the future. But we live in a more dynamic moment, because of the way people organize and communicate, than say during the Cold War, where it was really East versus West. America won because it invested in understanding the defensive and offensive positions militarily of the Soviets. And we were able to position and we were able to really undercut their defensive and offensive postures. Today, because of the way telecommunications is deployed and so forth, people are more able to deploy in a more diffuse fashion. And it is, in that way, a little bit harder to manage. And so it is not a new Cold War, in the sense of what existed before, but really a challenge of the ages in the sense that we may be facing a massive outflow of migrants. We’re working to see how this can be addressed. We have a plan that I think can address many contingencies. But in the end, it’s a little bit hard to predict what will happen next. So I don’t think that’s an exact statement. I will say this, President Putin is a thug from the KGB. He has presented himself this way as he handled the situation in the Caucasus, with Georgia. We see what’s happening in Ukraine as a continuation of his invasion in 2014. This isn’t something new. This is part of the same invasion. And it’s just continued and this may be even more horrific than what happened before. I will say on the other side of this is President Joe Biden, who is someone who has literally for 50 years been studying East versus West. This is a leader of the transatlantic community who has invested his career in getting to know the people, getting to know the players, getting to know the issues. My late father, Zbigniew Brzezinski, had the highest respect for Joe Biden, because this was a space that they worked in most closely, East versus West. 

Katarzyna Kolenda-Zaleska, TVN24: Let me ask you about your father. Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter and he spent his entire life learning, writing, analyzing, and dealing with Soviet Union and then Russia. What lessons can we learn from him in this time of war? 

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski: I think the most important lesson is that in a negotiation with someone who you don’t trust, you have to be, quite frankly, strong. You have to be have a full capacity to deal with a breakdown in the negotiation and things going south. And I feel that’s the way President Biden is dealing with President Putin. Again, President Biden has given a lot of diplomatic off ramps to Putin, to Yuri Ushakov, to all the advisors. And so, that’s the diplomatic piece. Then there’s the military piece, and while you know, not waving it in the face of everyone, we are profoundly prepared when it comes to this. And we have a precedent, Kasia, who really understands Poland, the President Biden really understands the Polish character. You know, when President Biden called me on my cell phone last April, when I was in Alexandria, Virginia, to ask me to come to Poland as his ambassador and his personal representative. I was glad I picked up that particular phone call. I don’t answer every every cell phone call. And he said to me the following: he goes, “Mark, this is what I think of when I think of the Polish people who you’re going to represent me to.” He said, “When I was a junior senator in the U.S. Senate, in 1979, I was sent by the U.S. Senate to the Vatican to interview the new pope who was coming in and the question was, what is it that we could work on together strategically? And he said to me, when I was in the Vatican, the doors opened and in walks the new Polish Pope. And the President said to me, the Pope said to him, ‘Senator, today, I’m not going to speak to you as your spiritual leader. Today, I’m going to speak to you as a Pole.’ And President Biden said to me, ‘that says everything I need to know about the Polish people. They have a sense of historical direction. They have a sense of pride. It is a strong identity, and that is who you are going to represent me to.” So the President understands Poland. I’m here to report to you and I’m excited to be working with him on this issue. And let me just say to you, I think this will be President Biden’s finest hour because for a man who was prepared his entire career on the question of East versus West, of how big countries should not bully little countries. He’s the guy that anyone would want to hire. And we’ve hired him as the U.S. President. I feel very, very good about the situation that we have in terms of our preparation for this threat from the East.  

Katarzyna Kolenda-Zaleska, TVN24: Thank you very much ambassador for having you here.