Ambassador Brzezinski’s Interview with Gazeta Polska

13 July 2022

Maciej Kozuszek, Gazeta Polska: I assume – maybe that’s the wrong assumption –  that when you were preparing to take your post in Warsaw, you probably weren’t expected that there was going to be a full scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. And you probably didn’t expect that Poland will be the central logistical hub for the aid and arming Ukraine process. So the first question is: how is your job right now different in terms in terms of intensity – because I imagined it must be really intense – than want you expected?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, let me start by saying this. I began the process of transitioning to serving as ambassador here, when I went to Ambassador school that the State Department puts on in Northern Virginia, in October, and there were already rumblings about what Putin’s intentions were in Eastern Europe. Indeed, I think that President Biden has been absolutely knocking the ball out of the park, in terms of judgment calls on this region. And of course, we hear a lot of other news elsewhere, about all kinds of various things. But I feel that his instincts in terms of sharing the intelligence early with the countries of this part of the world – the Baltic states, Poland, Romania – regarding what Russia’s defensive and offensive military structures are, and how the political elite intended to use those structures. He made that call early. And he began to assimilate it to the countries of this part of the world. So I had an instinct based on his judgment and in addition to that, my own background in terms of Russia, Russian leadership, in particular Putin, who ascended to power when I was on the National Security Council. I was worried that something was in the offing. Of course, one would not know the severity, one would not know the scale, one would not know the direction, and one would not know the timing. But I feel that I was given a little bit of a head start, because of the instincts of our President that there was a sense that something would happen.  I came to Poland on January 21. The invasion happened February 24. And by then, we already had a pretty scientifically detailed understanding of the border crossings – Medyka, Korczowa; the place where we would have our Welcome Center – Przemysl; of infrastructure in Rzeszow; the G2 arena; and other facilities in southeastern Poland. 

Maciej Kozuszek, Gazeta Polska: So, what you are saying is that these things were in motion before February 24.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Absolutely. What I’m saying is absolutely they were in motion, because we were thinking through all contingencies. This would be a serious development, and the expectation of professionals involved in the business of diplomacy, and involved in the business of security, is to think through and understand completely the scenarios – one of which happened, which was the full scale invasion of Ukraine; cruelty – that was quite frankly beyond imagination in the sense that it really is reminiscent of what you see in footage from World War Two – by the Russians, on the Ukrainians.  While we anticipated the number of refugees, the scale of it was something that was difficult to first fully wrap one’s (head) around because it was so much. And that’s where the people of Poland really come into play. Because it was the people of Poland who came to the rescue. (They were like the legendary John Wayne.  For me, the John Wayne who came to the rescue of Ukrainians who had crossed the border at Medyka or Korczowa was the Polish people.) They came to the rescue, and they continue to do that. And we are really, really grateful and thankful and continuously impressed.

Maciej Kozuszek, Gazeta Polska: And the other thing that you mentioned when it comes to the role of Poland is the logistical effort. There are many discussions about political decisions, what kind of equipment is going to be is going to be sent. And I think people underestimate the level of coordination that is needed between allies, with Polish government and US government and the Pentagon, if you can speak a little bit more about that.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Sure, absolutely. Alliance coordination is very much for us, the “Holy Grail”. In other words, we are going to win this together. And when I say win this, what do I mean? Ukraine will be a sovereign and independent state again one day, and we’re going to have to work together.  The countries close to Ukraine, the countries further away from Ukraine, we all share and join in in this in this problem. And I think that what we have developed, really pretty quickly, tactically, is an alignment and a synchronicity, in terms of coordination between our different commands and control.  So that we all understand what the other is doing, and what each of us is doing is shared and briefed into the other so that there are no surprises. And I think we have a very good rhythm right now. And we’re prepared really, for any contingency. And I have to say that because we don’t know what Putin will do next. 

Maciej Kozuszek, Gazeta Polska: Right.  And you said it yourself. President Biden called it pretty early. But when he took office, at least you could have a perception that – well, he never had anything nice to say about Mr. Putin, for sure – that he was at least trying to forge somewhat of a working relationship with Vladimir Putin here at the meeting in Geneva. And now, of course, after the war started, President Biden said in Warsaw that this man cannot stay in power. Lloyd Austin said that the goal is to weaken Russia. So you already said that Ukraine will be a sovereign country, I would like to ask you about the long term strategy for Ukraine and this region of the world of this current administration?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Sure. Well, in addition to Ukraine, being a sovereign and independent country, we want Ukraine to be able to defend itself in the future, to be able to defend its people against the cruelty that has happened. And we don’t want Russia to be able to do this again. I think that President Biden has been pretty consistent in terms of Putin. I think if you look at his record, looking backward, there is not a oscillating, or swinging back and forth, view of Putin. President Biden has always been pretty consistent in terms of Putin being a KGB agent, the son of a KGB agent, a cruel thug, who has oppressed others well before this most recent oppression from Ukraine.  It’s also important to know that as Vice President, after Ukraine was invaded, after Crimea was invaded in 2014, Vice President Biden was at the forefront of senior officials visiting Kyiv to reassure the Ukrainians. So there is a personal knowledge of this part of the world, and the players of it, that dates back for more than 50 years for President Biden.  He has invested in understanding and knowing about this part of the world.  In addition to this – and you saw this at the stadium – in addition, there is a sentimental feel for the people of this part of the world, which is why he has been so moved by the actions of the people of Poland to rescue those coming in from Ukraine. It’s an important thing that he has witnessed and he has shared widely.  We had our former Secretary of State, John Kerry, here yesterday.  He’s now the Climate Envoy for President Biden. And he conveyed, also on behalf of the US government, profound thanks from all of us for what the Poles are doing. The Poles are setting a new standard. And they’re doing it on their own. And we think it’s awesome. And so some of this is planned, like, for example, the release of the intelligence to our allies, and some of this is spontaneous, and it’s created a constellation of reactions that have strategically set back Putin.  Nothing has worked strategically for Putin. Did Putin invade Ukraine so that Sweden and Finland would go into NATO? Did he want that? Absolutely not. And they are.  Did Putin invade Ukraine, so the Americans and Poles would get closer together, and  (for the) first time, on the Eastern Flank of NATO, the designation “permanent” is being put on a US Army Forward Command Headquarters, supported by a new garrison and supply operation. No. Did Putin invade (Ukraine), so that we can increase from four to six destroyers in Spain? so that we would increase the number of F 35s in the UK? do force enhancements in Romania and in the Baltic states? No, he didn’t. So strategically, this is not working. What Putin has to report back to his people is many dead Russian young soldiers. I don’t know how that’s a victory, and only a dictator can justify that in his own mind, because any truly popularly elected leader would pay a high political price for that.

Maciej Kozuszek, Gazeta Polska: Right. And as you probably know, when you found that in Poland.  In Poland, there is not much contesting, whatever political leanings people have, of the strong Polish and American lines.  But the fear, and that’s why I’m asking about Geneva and the start of President Biden’s presidency, the fear is that somewhere along the line, the support could wane.  The Americans would get tired of the war; the war effort will get tiresome; and somehow it will end in some type of a peace deal that would be unfavorable to the Ukrainians and to Polish people by extension. How would you assuage those fears?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Sure, let me start by just flagging something I’m sure you’ve seen. If you haven’t, you should check it out. Did you see the Pew public opinion poll that was released last (month) on Poland?

Maciej Kozuszek, Gazeta Polska: Right on part of Americans, right?

Ambassador Brzezinski: No, no the part of Poles. Okay. So it’s worth seeing.  And the reason why it’s important is that Pew is truly authoritative. It is a true authoritative polling platform. What that poll shows, is a increase of popular support by Poles of the relationship with the United States, up to over (90%) An increase of popular support by polls of NATO to a similar level. This is not a small jump from several years ago.  You can see the details in the Pew poll, but it’s an important poll.  Very relevant to us, is an increase in the popular support by  Poles of taking in even more refugees from foreign conflict zones, and areas of unrest … you will see the exact language in the pew data.  (editor’s note: “Thinking about immigration, would you support or oppose Poland taking refugees from countries where people are fleeing violence and war” presumably the question was asked in Polish.)  And those are absolutely important trends and very relevant to us, because they are impressive.  So I think that that is a starting point. The trends, quite frankly, are all in an amazing direction and we are applauding.  Second: we know that everyone must participate in and share in and join in, in this regard. Our Secretary of State just signed off on an additional (67.8) million in assistance to Ukraine, being sent through international NGOs to Poland – because our system requires that money to go through approved providers. So I believe the International Red Cross is one among among a number of them. And so through the Red Cross, among others, an additional $67 million. We know that there’s much more needed in terms of what the Poles are doing, but it’s important for others to share in and join in in this like us as well.  I have hosted since the outbreak of the war 95 (checking number) Members of Congress and the Senate in Poland. That is a large number over (more than) four months. In addition, of course, the President and the Vice President within two weeks of each other.  That’s not seen regularly when the President and the Vice President, come within two weeks of each other on bilateral visits to a foreign country. So that’s unusual. Secretary of State three times, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Treasury, Secretary of Agriculture, and so forth and so on. A lot of American officials are bearing witness to this. And that is important, because it is important for them to see how our troops and how our money is being spent over here; it’s important for them to see the scale of the crisis; it’s important for them to see the Poles going about their business, despite the fact that the Poles have a war next door. That is important. We do not want Poland to become destabilized. And what’s awesome about what we see right now, is people are going about their business. And I think this is my theory: part of that is due to the membership of Poland in NATO, that NATO membership, as it should, means something. And the President was clear when he said directly, and in short, we will defend every square inch of NATO territory. Of course, that includes Poland. And Secretary Kerry reiterated that yesterday in his presentations, including to President Duda and Prime Minister Morawiecki.  So, just to return to your question: We understand that this may be drawn out; we’re prepared for that; and I certainly will make sure that I keep as many eyes on the ball, as they say, as possible. Right. Thank you. And if we can just briefly talk a little bit more about the fifth corps Army Command being placed in Poland. For many people in Poland that don’t understand the structure of the US military it might be a little bit mystifying what that means and what that presence is actually connected with? Sure. Well, it’s a V Corps US Army Headquarters Forward Command (Post), and now it is permanent. What will it do? It will advance joint understanding in terms of command and control. It is important for the Poles and the US, which have separate commands and control, to very much understand what each other is doing. Second, it will enhance interoperability.  Both sides now use sophisticated military weaponry. It’s important for each side to understand how to make that interoperable, how our various weapons systems aren’t basically one offs and going off on their own, but working as part of a joint, meshed together and completely covering in terms of the landmass that they protect, approach. That is the essence of what a (Forward) Command headquarters offers. And the fact that it will be here permanently, while at the same time we are seeking to enhance the rotating forces coming through Poland – because we have thousands of rotating forces. And we’re seeking to enhance the rotating forces coming through as part of this new force footprint as well. All of this will be informed by the facts on the battlefield. And we are prepared for every contingency. And we are watching closely, not only in terms of what Putin does, but what he is preparing to do. And we have a very thorough and fulsome understanding of what this guy is doing and where things are going. And we feel that Poland is safe, and Poland is secure because of that. And we’re working together. Truly we have never worked together more closely militarily than now, because we’ve never been on Polish soil like this before. Before we worked together in Iraq, which is a different battlefield, in Kosovo, in Afghanistan, but those are third party locations where we’re both going in and this type of thing. Now we are here in Poland with you.  You know this space cold, and we also have some understanding of it just over the years. And so I think that there is a meshing together. There is a meshing together that provides a thorough force posture.  It’s important for the Polish people to understand that there is a thorough force posture here that truly covers the war front.

Tomasz Sakiewicz, Gazeta Polska: What is your point of view of the Three Seas conceptions of integration of our nation in the middle of Europe? Is it a necessary conception for the United States now? Are you do have another point of view?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, we absolutely support the Three Seas Initiative. We’re not a member of the Three Seas Initiative, but we absolutely support the Three Seas Initiative. And we recently announced at the summit, from our Development Finance Corporation, an important financial next step to the tune of $300 million from the DFC in support of the three seas Initiative Program. So you know, money talks in Washington. There’s a great saying in Washington: “you are your budget” in Washington, which means that you can be a great person and have no budget, which means that there’s not really that much you can do, because you don’t have anything to pay for it. Well, the US is stepping up through the Development Finance Corporation for the Three Seas Initiative. 

Tomasz Sakiewicz, Gazeta Polska: Now we have very big crisis in gas and petrol. how do you convince Europe to change the situation, because Poland is now safe. We cooperate with diffferent suppliers of gas and petrol. But, for example, German, Hungary and the other countries are in a deep crisis, because they have no other sources of gas, for example.  What can the United States do?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Let me tell you that I’ve been here for almost six months, and I have really tried to make this embassy a platform for American CEOs to come in and declare, “we see that Poland is open for business.  It’s open for investment. And we  – CEOs – are walking the walk.”  Who are they? Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google came here and announced first of all a $38 million donation from Google to the Ukrainian refugees; also important, the purchase for $1 billion of the Warsaw hub – the the biggest real estate deal in the first quarter of this year by an overseas company, really important. Susan Wojcicki the, Polish American by the way, CEO of YouTube came here and announced thousands of jobs at YouTube, white collar tech jobs – important statement. The CEO of McDonald’s (Chris Kempczinski), a Polish American, came here with the opening of their 500th store, and each is a franchise as you know, so these are owned as franchises – and with special steps being taken to support Ukrainian refugees.  So we are trying to message confidence, because we have confidence in the Polish economy. We see how the inflation rate is going. We see gas prices; it’s not something that we don’t see. But we also know this: Polish people are talented; they are gifted scientifically and technically; and they have a hell of a lot to offer Western companies, including American companies.  That’s not changing. That remains a very compelling and attractive investment thesis for American businesses. And as we go into my sixth and seventh and eighth month, knock on wood further – we are going to continue to bring those CEOs to share the opportunity, because the opportunity in Poland is that worker willing to work hard, willing to be loyal to a company and to share their gifted technical abilities with that company.  That is a highly compelling thesis for American businesses and others will see that.