Ambassador Brzezinski’s Interview with Onet

12 July 2022

Bartosz Paturej, ONET: You have been to Przemysl. A very sentimental …

Ambassador Brzezinski: Yes, I was there two days ago visiting at the place where my father spent the first 10 years of his life.  I got a sense of the Local Roots and global reach of Przemysl, both in terms of my father, because my father was a global statesman, but he came from somewhere.  He brought to his statesmanship, a love of Poland. I could sense in Przemysl, done by that river, in that school yard, just around town, how and why Poland was always a Northstar for him as an American citizen, and as an American leader.  Then second, in terms of local roots and global reach: Przemysl is the gateway for an incredible human interest story on Poland, that the world loves. And that is the story of Poles embracing the Ukrainian refugees. It is an act of humanity, worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize; it takes tremendous personal generosity and resources. And it’s happening in millions of places. It’s an awesome story. And 1.1 million refugees came through Przemysl. And so Przemysl is an important gateway.  So I love going to Przemysl and I was there two days ago.

Bartosz Paturej, ONET: So these are the main conclusions of your visit: that it’s the gateway, the new capital of Poland, or …

Ambassador Brzezinski: I would say those are several conclusions, but I had a variety of conclusions and emotions from the whole trip in the sense that I learned a little bit more about myself, in terms of my own background as an American of Polish extraction, of Czech extraction, in that I saw a little town that my father came from: the Town Center, the school, the community. This is a zone that has been under attack over centuries, at different times. And I got a sense of my own self and my own family by visiting that town. Regarding why it was always that my father believed that one has to stand up against bullies, that  one needs to stand up against oppression, to stand up for the most vulnerable, because I could see him thinking of that little town as he strategized against the Soviet Union. And as he thought Putin was a terrible threat. So different life experiences inform one’s perspective. And by going to Przemysl, I learned a little bit more about myself and my family.

Bartosz Paturej, ONET: Okay. So I understand that it can influence you as a person, but can it influence your work as an ambassador?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Absolutely. Because Przemysl is a focal point for one of the most important human events in the year 2022.  One of the most important human events in 2022 has Przemysl as a focal point, because that’s the place where this humanitarian embrace of Ukrainian refugees has an important catalyst.  And I think that’s important, because the fight against Putinism is a defining feature of America’s role in the world. And how we treat refugees is something that the world is still wrestling with. And never in the future, will there be a mass movement of refugees from one country to another – and tragically, this won’t be the last time refugees move from one country to another – that doesn’t consider the case of Poland. that doesn’t consider what the poles did in their reaction. I recently met with President Biden one-on-one, and he said to me that he wanted to talk with me about Poland’s reception of the refugees, that it was so spectacular, so, quite frankly, awesome. And it was something that he wanted to learn more about. 

Bartosz Paturej, ONET: So you had a one to one conversation, just to talk about the Polish reception?

Ambassador Brzezinski: He asked me to come to the Oval Office, to speak specifically about the way the Poles have reacted and received the Ukrainian refugees. 

Bartosz Paturej, ONET: So the conversation was in your plans?

Ambassador Brzezinski: That conversation was not something I expected. I went to Washington for the Chiefs of Mission conference, when we meet all the ambassadors and I was called on my cell phone by the White House to say, “Ambassador, please show up at the White House at 9am on Friday, you’re having a meeting with the President in the Oval Office.” And I said “Okay.” So that’s how those plans were developed, and so I was there promptly at nine. Since I’m obviously the personal representative of President Biden here, and I’m saying this because it was such a personally significant moment for me personally, and also as an ambassador, so it was something that I was keen to, obviously, be on time for and to be as responsive to as possible. 

Bartosz Paturej, ONET: So how did Joe Biden react to your story?

Ambassador Brzezinski: He listened and shared with me his perspective that it was words he heard from the Ukrainian refugees in the Warsaw stadium, that really moved him, that the Ukrainian refugees said to him, “We thank Poland, we thank the Poles,” and that really stuck with him.  He wanted to know more what underpinned that reaction. And that’s what our conversation was about.

Bartosz Paturej, ONET: Okay. So let’s talk for a while about these terrible events, about the war in Ukraine, political and military issues.  You said in an interview with Newsweek – “Newsweek Polska” – two weeks ago, something like: “From my contacts with Polish authorities, I know that Warsaw, Wroclaw, Poznan and Krakow are approaching the limits of their ability to accept refugees. We would all like all the war in Ukraine to end tomorrow, but you have to take into account the worst case scenario that it could go on for a long time.” So how is the US preparing for a long war?

Ambassador Brzezinski: In a number of different ways. First of all, we are very carefully assessing what Putin may do next, and we are prepared for every contingency, because the cause of this terrible tragedy is Putin.  He’s the one who has invaded Ukraine. And we want to make sure we have thought through and are prepared for every contingency.  Two: the President submitted to Congress a support plan and legislation to pay for it, asking for $33 billion, and Congress ultimately passed legislation approaching $50 billion. That should give you a sense that supporting Ukraine and supporting those who support Ukraine is a political imperative. So thinking through how we deploy those resources to support those who support the Ukrainians, is what we’re doing.

Bartosz Paturej, ONET: Okay. You know, there is a big discussion with a lot of controversy about the goals for the West as a whole. But of course, the United States are the leaders in this fight with Russia. Sometimes, we hear that the goal is to weaken Russia as much as as possible. Another view is that the goal is to defeat Russia on the battlefield. How do we react to those two different approaches on the goals for the West?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Sure. The goal is to throw Russia out of Ukraine, and it’s currently occupying Ukraine. That’s the goal, and I hope it happens next week. It may take a long time, and we are in for the long game. We are prepared to support the Ukrainian people in their fight for as long as it takes. Additionally, we will protect every square inch of NATO territory, which includes Poland. And that’s why I think the announcement last week by the United States, by the White House, about designating as permanent the US Army V Corps Forward Command Headquarters in Poznan and the garrison to support it was so important. Because in the end, that is what Jan Nowak-Jezioranski and my father felt was part of a true long term alignment with the United States to make sure that Poles and Poland are safe. And that designation is now here. And I think it’s a very important message to anyone listening  (you know what I’m talking about) that we are in this for the long term with the Poles. And I think that it was a brave and important step that President Biden took.

Bartosz Paturej, ONET: the NATO summit in Madrid was crucial and it was very important from a political point of view. And this declaration, “the Russian Federation is the most important and dire threat to the security of our alliance and to the peace and security of Europe.  The meeting of the allies was very important, but we have heard some (concerns) from the military officers from the eastern flank about some military agreements. Do you think it’s it’s justified? Because we have heard about more troops, but not on the eastern flank.  So what do you want to say for those that think that those military conclusions were weak?

Ambassador Brzezinski : Well, I think that if you read the statement, it specifically says that we are committed to expanding and enhancing the footprint of soldiers here. The question is, “what will that look like?” And the answer to that says, “It depends on what the threat to the east is.” Today, we have more than 10,000 troops in Poland.  They’re spread out all over the country, on Polish basis. So we have a very good understanding of what is happening now in this country, and also what’s happening next door to the east in Ukraine. And should things change and get worse, we will react accordingly. And should things change and get better, we will react accordingly.  We are being very careful in terms of how we engage because we want to be precise, and reactive to any contingency.  What we’re looking at right now is the contingencies. And we feel very confident.  As I advise talk to an American soldier and I asked him or her, “Are you ready?” they will say, “Ambassador, we are ready for any contingency.”  And I think that that is an important message from a US military person in Poland, to the Chief of Mission. And that’s not just a whimsical statement that they are already from that for every contingency. And so we are, and we’re watching and waiting to see what happens.  We hope and do not want the war to extend. That’s clear. And at the same time, we are prepared. And we are taking steps that we think will signal to the Poles, to the Europeans, and also to the east, where we are. And I think the designation of “permanent” of that headquarters is very much a tectonic and historic step that President Biden took.  I wouldn’t get bogged down in the numbers, because the numbers will ebb and flow based on the threat

Bartosz Paturej, ONET: Polish Army buys a lot of American based equipment, you know: Patriots,  HIMARS, Abrams, F35s. These items are greatly needed, but they deliveries are expected in a few years. Can we expect acceleration of production of these items?

Ambassador Brzezinski: We have heard the Polish request loud and clear to accelerate delivery as much as possible, and we’re looking at different ways somehow that that can be done. It’s kind of hard to deliver something that isn’t made yet. So the question is, what are workarounds that we can do? And we’re studying those right now. I think the fundamental underpinning of your question is, “Is Poland at threat because we haven’t delivered that equipment to you yet?” And I can tell you that the American footprint here includes fighter aircraft, includes Patriot systems, includes tanks, and includes American men and women who are spread out all over the country. It could not be misunderstood by anyone, that we are absolutely locked in with Poland to protect it.

Bartosz Paturej, ONET: Yeah, I think it’s reasonably clear.  Nevertheless the situation is as it is, so those questions are emerging. And it’s good to ask and have an answer. So thanks.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Right. Absolutely. It has to be remembered that you’re not just buying a piece of equipment; you’re buying a system, and that system requires constant training, and exchanges, and further education and enhancements. These pieces of equipment, they’re like computer systems very technologically specific and elaborate, and it will take some time for everyone to learn how to use it.  You don’t just jump into a tank and drive down the street.  You have to really learn how to use this highly technical system.   One of the things that Secretary Austin made very clear to me when he visited Poland in February, and then again in March, is the training and education piece of it.  That it is imperative for the Polish military to fully exploit the training and educational possibilities that come with the purchase these systems, so as to be totally prepared, and to ultimately grow your technological understanding writ large that could benefit your own security.  So you’re buying into a system. And I think that’s good. And it’s important.

Bartosz Paturej, ONET: I’d like to ask about different approaches in NATO and Europe to the war in Ukraine. In Polish society, the actions from some strongest European countries are really seen with some disappointment. I mean, of course, France and Germany. We know that countries with stronger business ties with Russia take a different different approach than the U.S., United Kingdom, and Baltic states.  Is the US administration satisfied with the Western European approach to the war?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, I can tell you that I’m very proud that our president has really led on maintaining consensus within the Alliance, because this is a big number of countries. They are they are not all totally similar to each other. There’s universal security needs, and then there’s unique dimensions to each one of these countries and maintaining consensus, I think is an awesome, artful and diplomatic achievement that President Biden has maintained.   It’s also really important to understand that, as in any relationship, there is a dynamic quality to change and that unexpected developments can produce great change.  Witness Sweden and Finland’s decision to join NATO. I served as US Ambassador to Sweden for four years. I know Magdalena Andersson and Ann Linde very well.  They are highly respected colleagues of mine. And I’m so proud of their leadership, for bringing Sweden, and in this case, Finland into NATO, and of course, the Finns as well. And also, I am so impressed by their ability to mold their perspective to the changing security context. Because of course, Sweden was committed to neutrality, deeply committed to neutrality. That wasn’t a whimsical thing. There was an absolute deep commitment to the practice of neutrality, and now they’re joining NATO because of the threat of Putinism. I think that’s totally appropriate. But it gives you just a case study of the dynamism to the way alliances operate, and how change can produce total changes in direction.

Bartosz Paturej, ONET: I think this is crucial.  The Baltic Sea is now almost a NATO sea. Now, with this possibility to talk with you, I need to ask about the US and polish relations regarding the rule of law and democratic institutions. Poland has not resolved the crisis with the relations with the European Union. So in view of this ongoing impasse, is the U.S. actively working to break this impasse? or is it just observing the situation?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, the starting point in my answer to you, is that President Biden has been clear that America has its own problems in terms of democracy and the rule of law with this January 6.  So that’s point number one. Point number two is that there is no subordination of democracy and the rule of law to other things in our dialogues with other countries.  Quite frankly, our troops are here and elsewhere around the world to protect democracy and the rule of law. They’re not in any particular country to protect a particular party, or something like that. They’re there to protect the principle and practice of democracy and the rule of law. I think that that is an important starting point in terms of understanding how we engage with every country in the world, knowing that we have our own problems in terms of democracy and the rule of law, and that we are all in this together. So we’re very clear in our engagement with anyone about our work together on building democracy and the rule of law. I will say that we very much appreciated and respected the steps that President Duda took on TVN, on the disciplinary chamber, even vetoing the education law. We thought those were principled positions. As the President’s personal representative, we’re very grateful for that. And at the same time, we don’t miss an opportunity to talk to all kinds of different groups, whether it is business groups or student groups or influencers or NGOs, about what we believe is the principle and practice of democracy and rule of law, whether the United States or anywhere in the world.

Bartosz Paturej, ONET: Let me ask you, probably last question. Already after the start of the war in Ukraine, Georgette Mosbacher said that the discussion that is going on about Poland, in a field of the rule of law is unfair. And I would like to quote, “The union is now dealing with the rule of law in Poland and debating sanctions.  It is starting to say it out loud. When it comes to problems with the Rule of Law, a good part of what was reaching the West was the result of Russian disinformation.  Both the European Union and America accepted that uncritically,” she said. Do you shall that point of view?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I think that I spoke very clearly in terms of the role of democracy and rule of law, in terms of our engagement here, which is that it is absolutely an equal dimension of our engagement with Poland, alongside the security conversation, the humanitarian conversation, the business conversation, and the people to people in conversation. These are all interdependent with each other.  Business flourishes best in a legally certain environment, where there is transparency, and the supremacy of law over power, and a legally certain business environment.  In fact, I was this morning, at the Krakow Technology Center and meeting with all kinds of startups, and innovators and entrepreneurs.  They will flourish best in a legally certain business environment. They know that.  We see that.  That’s the case with our startup ecosystem. And that’s one of many things that the rule of law cultivates. Again, we have our own problems in terms of democracy and rule of law, and we’re working with countries around the world on it. Very seriously.

Bartosz Paturej, ONET: Okay. But do you think that Russian disinformation could contribute to the conflict with Poland and the European Union?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I will say generally on Russian disinformation and misinformation, we are working assiduously against it. We see what Russia has as tactics when it comes to Russia’s misinformation and disinformation.  Particularly I’ve collaborated with the Poles to fight against it, but I don’t have anything particular to say about that particular aspect of your question.

Bartosz Paturej, ONET: Thank you so much.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Absolutely. Thank you.