President Duda, thank you very much for talking with us. Let’s start with Ukraine. You have just listened to President Biden‘s remarks at the United Nations where he said what President Putin has done in taking over territory that does not belong to him and now with his overall threat of nuclear weaponry… Did it, should it meet with one–on–one call? Is that how you take what is going on?
First of all, I think that these two speeches need to be considered together – the speech made by President Putin, and then the one made by US President Joe Biden. I think it is very good that President Biden made his non–committal comments on what we could hear yesterday from the mouth of Vladimir Putin. The perception of that speech yesterday is as follows: Russia is in a difficult situation; Russia has shown its weakness. What Russia has been doing so far in Ukraine – the aggression with all of its horrifying aftermath: all dimensions of the war manifested there – has actually turned out to be a failure for Russia. Russia is trying to change its tactics while at the same time scaring the world with nuclear weapons.
The fact that President Joe Biden today addressed the above–mentioned in such a distanced manner, actually upholding what has been his position so far – a tough stance on Russian aggression against Ukraine, support for Ukraine, a complete denial of democratic credibility for future referenda in Russian–occupied areas, namely Donetsk, Lugansk – all of this speaks volumes about the distance with which the President of the United States treats the ins and outs of what Vladimir Putin said yesterday; and in doing so I believe he is right, while also emphasizing the stability and certainty of the policy that has been implemented for a long time, which is aimed at supporting Ukraine, the country defending itself against Russian aggression. As far as I can judge it, I believe that President Joe Biden's words were by all means adequate to the situation at hand.
How did this statement from President Putin that he’s going to mobilize up to hundreds of thousands more troops to fight at this war, that he is set for a long–haul, how did that change this war?
Remember that from the very outset, even before the war broke out, experts were saying: Russia will need no more than 72 hours to control all of Ukraine. Neither has Russia managed to conquer all of Ukraine, nor has it managed to do so in a matter of 72 hours. To–date, Russia has not managed to seize control over Ukraine, and is now retreating.
Therefore, all that has happened in Ukraine so far involves, on the one hand, Russian crimes, something I have seen with my own eyes in Borodyanka, Irpen – mind you, I have been to Kyiv three times during the war, I also visited those localities that were temporarily occupied by the Russians, and from which the Russians withdrew, and I saw the enormity of the losses and tragedies they caused – and I saw the complete failure of the activities that have been implemented so far. And on the other hand, on can see the attempt to save face, in defiance of everything else. And this partial mobilization, which Vladimir Putin announced in Russia, at the same time causes dismay among the people, because thousands of Russian soldiers have already died in Ukraine – there will be thousands more. This will now be the policy of the Russian government. Russia's weakness is evident.
So are saying, as you keep referring to Russian weakness and are you say we should not take Putin seriously when he says now he is preparing all means necessary and really, they have enormous nuclear arsenal.
First of all, no one attacked Russia. Russian aggression on Ukraine has been a completely unprovoked aggression. Vladimir Putin's stories about alleged neo–Nazism in Ukraine, about some Ukrainian crimes, have absolutely no coverage in reality. I say this with full responsibility, including as a man who lives his every–day life in Ukraine's neighborhood. This is my first point.
My second point is that the Russians committed murders there, and now they realize the fact they are facing criminal responsibility on that count, something that is quite vocally discussed in the world. I, too, made this point about criminal responsibility yesterday during my speech at the UN General Assembly. They must be held accountable.
Crimes have indeed occurred and are occurring in Ukraine, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.
As a result, Vladimir Putin has resorted to intimidation. What can he threaten others with? Only with nuclear weapons. But, on the other hand, he is aware of the following: if a Ukraine that is defending itself only by conventional means, defending itself with its own forces – after all, there are no other soldiers there to help Ukraine today; those who are confronting Russian troops today are Ukrainian defenders of their homeland – a Ukraine that does not have nuclear weapons itself – is going to be suffer from even the slightest attack, even if these are to be the so–called „tactical” nuclear weapons, edge–cutting, smallest nuclear missiles, it will be in violation of all global taboos and Russia will find itself completely marginalized in any reasonable political debate.
The whole world will then turn its back on Russia, even those countries that nowadays tacitly or even openly favor Russia, they will find themselves in a dramatic situation and will have to say that Russia has broken all the rules.
So what should Ukraine and the West do right now? You are describing Russia as backed in a corner, making threats, under weakness? So what should Ukraine and the West do? Buy more weapons to Ukraine? What needs to happen now? Where is this going?
As President Joe Biden declares, as he reiterates all the time, and three days ago in London I thanked the President for this stance – everyone should firmly, calmly and consistently support Ukraine, also by dispatching military support, sending equipment there.
Why? Because if we want to speak of a world with some order in it, and one in which peace will be guarded, Ukraine must regain control of its internationally recognized borders. Today Russia is occupying part of Ukraine's territories, trying to seize even more in Ukraine, trying to seize Ukrainian land, natural goods, and enslave the Ukrainian people. Ukraine is defending itself, and Ukraine must be supported to defend itself, so that the Russians would be forced to withdraw and return the occupied lands to Ukraine, and then forced to help Ukraine rebuild itself.
This is the most important task today, because it serves to stem the tide of all future aggressors, so that they see that the world strongly opposes it, that it says „No” to violent aggression, and supports those who have been attacked as long as the latter do not drive the aggressor away. For me, this is a fundamental issue, clear and self–evident. Ukraine must regain its territory. Russia must withdraw. The primacy of international law must be restored.
Are you absolutely confident Russia will not use nuclear weapons?...
This is a question that actually cannot be answered. Of course, no one can be one hundred percent sure. Russia, on the other hand, has never resorted to the use nuclear weapons yet, I emphasize: never, even in the worst stand–offs of the Cold War, even in times of the greatest tensions – and especially never used nuclear weapons against a country that has no nuclear potential – this would be tantamount to breaking all taboos. In my view, the Russian government knows this very well, not only Vladimir Putin, but also those in his inner circle who make strategic military decisions in Russia.
So are you saying Russia has to down, has to give up the territories it has taken? Do you see Vladimir Putin willing to do that? He has shown no indications at all, even with all the sanctions, that he is prepared to act like that.
Let me put it this way: It was Vladimir Putin and Russia that attacked Ukraine. It was not Ukraine that attacked Russia, Ukraine did not provoke Russia. Russia attacked Ukraine, driven by neo–imperial aspirations, the will to regain its imperial primacy in the world, aspirations to be superpower again and all that the world does not accept. Especially if it is implemented by force.
Russia today is forcibly implementing its imperial policy in Ukraine, trying not only garner the land from the Ukrainians, but above all trying to enslave their people and destroy their state. The world cannot accept this. And it does not accept it.
Fortunately, the United States today, in the person of President Joe Biden, as the one who represents the United States and leads American affairs in the world, makes it clear and puts it bluntly that this can never be accepted. We – as allies of the United States – as part of the North Atlantic Alliance and as part of the free world, stand here with the United States. As Poland, we are nowadays supporting Ukraine with all our strength, and as neighbors, we are supporting Ukrainians by helping them, by welcoming refugees in Poland.
We have a clear conviction on that count, also derived from our historical experience – for more than 123 years we were occupied by Russia, back then the Tsarist Russia. Then we found ourselves for more than 40 years behind the Iron Curtain, in Soviet Russia's sphere of influence. We absolutely defy any approval of Russia's superpower ambitions in the world, to any extent, anything that would involve enslaving other nations.
We want to decide for ourselves. And we decide for ourselves also thanks to the alliance with the United States. We have democracy in Poland, we are the ones who elect our authorities, we are the ones who decide who our allies will be – and we want it to stay that way.
But again, very quickly: do you see any signs that Vladimir Putin is going to back off? He has shown no sign, at least not for now…
This is Vladimir Putin's problem today. As I said a moment ago – it was he who attacked Ukraine, it was Russia who attacked Ukraine. And this is Russia's problem today and Russia's great mistake: perhaps there was some miscalculation there that the world would not dare to side with Ukraine, that the world would be afraid, that it would prefer to turn away and pretend that this aggression is not happening.
Meanwhile, led by the United States, the world has responsibly and firmly stood up for Ukraine, – and this is the great work of building space for peace in the world. Because this is the only way peace can be restored.
Two other things: number one is: the West, Europe has been largely united against Russia up until now but if this war drags on for a very long time, the economy being what it, there is winter coming... Are you concerned at all that it might be counterwork?
Of course, the situation is very difficult. Today there are two main topics that are discussed at meetings among politicians – I say this because a few days ago at the funeral ceremonies of Her Majesty the Queen we all met and talked to each other, because there were such opportunities afforded to us.
Two topics are central. First, the energy crisis, and second, the inflation problem. Both caused by Russia, and both caused by this war, by this aggression. Of course, in addition to all this, there is the third, extremely important topic, namely – the food crisis, which primarily affects Africa, primarily affects those countries for whom until now Ukraine has been a great breadbasket. Because Ukraine is the breadbasket of the world.
Today, it is Russia that is causing this food crisis – just as much as the energy crisis, just as the war, and added to this is the coronavirus pandemic that even before led to this inflationary spiral which engulfed our countries today.
Well, but the question is this: in the desire to make things easier and cheaper for us are we ready to consent to one nation losing its independence, sovereignty and freedom; this country being a European country, which wants to be a democratic state, part of the Western community, of free, independent, sovereign states; to consent that it would be wiped off the map because Russia has an imperial appetite?
Then Russia will not stop, it will want more tasty territorial morsels. It will strive to seize the Baltic states, perhaps it will want to seize my country, Poland. Perhaps it will claim Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia – the former Soviet sphere of influence.
We have to say „no!” to that. And we are saying „no!” to it. The difficult truth is that there will be a price to pay for such a stance, we will have to grin and bear it. I believe that we will manage together with our societies, guided by the most responsible, fair principles of distribution of wealth; by making further investments in gas terminals, so that we can be supplied with liquefied gas from different parts of the world, including LNG from the United States; by building new pipelines from countries that treat their energy resources and the sales thereof based on fair–play, on market principles, and not by dominating other nations, the way Russia has been clearly doing.
We need to get through this difficult time. In fact, such policy is also leading to Russia's economic decline. Because if other sources of energy are supplied to the European Union, a huge energy market in itself – both in terms of gas and oil – then to whom will Russia sell its raw materials, the resources which today are the foundation of its economic existence?
Last question is about your country: about Poland. You are clearly siding with the West and pausing what Putin and Russia are doing in Ukraine. At the same time your country has taken what is seen in the United States by US by Biden administration as some extreme positions. There has been a challenge to an independent television network, there are questions about the independence of your judiciary , your country’s policy towards abortion is very extreme, there are extreme limits on abortion in Poland. So my question is: if the United States looks at your government, your position that you have taken, and the question is raised if this country is moving in authoritarian direction or in the direction of a modern state? What is your answer?
First of all, let's start with the fact that thankfully Poland today is a sovereign, independent and free country. This is our great achievement of the last 30 years or so, since 1989, when we managed to break out of the Russian sphere of influence, when we managed to break out from behind the Iron Curtain, which, by the way, collapsed directly thereafter: thanks to the steadfastness of the United States and thanks to the great political and also spiritual support given at that time to us by the Holy Father John Paul II – a pope who was of Polish descent.
This is our history, this is our great achievement, we remember what it means to live in slavery, we remember what it means not to be able to decide for ourselves, because somebody else – in Moscow – was deciding about what would happen in our country. And today, the Poles themselves decide who will govern them, who will hold the office of President in Poland, who will have seats in the Polish parliament. In elections they make such decisions.
In the last election, when I was elected President of the Republic for the second time, the turnout was almost 70 percent. I am proud that at a time when the coronavirus pandemic was sawing terror world–wide, the Poles calmly went to the polls in such huge numbers and voted, cast their votes, showed what their preference was.
Therefore, the program that is being implemented in Poland – including the political program – is the program that voters endorsed based on purely democratic principles. This is how it works in Poland today, I would even go as far as to say – in an exemplary way. I listen to my voters and therefore make such decisions as I believe are right in terms of their expectations.
Therefore, as President of the Republic, where indeed attempts were made at changes in the media market, I said: no. And I stopped these changes, as you know very well. I said: „No, these are not changes that I believe would go in the right direction.” The President of the Republic has such a mandate and such constitutional powers in our country so as to stop virtually any change in legislation.
The policy pursued is reasonable. On the other hand, there is an ideological, political dispute. I am a conservative politician, a believer, I am a Catholic – these are my values. At the time I was elected, everyone knew who I was, what my beliefs were – I didn't hide them. I said what my preferences were, I also said what could be expected of me. And I am trying to implement this consistently.
Of course, there are people in Poland – we are a free country, fortunately – who have views differing from mine, they probably voted for other candidates in the presidential elections. Well, but my mandate is obtained in democratic elections, something that has never been doubted in Poland. And I deliver on this mandate today with my full sense of responsibility. Someone may agree with it, someone may disagree – I have my convictions, I was elected, and I am acting upon it.
We are going to leave at there. President Andrzej Duda, we thank you very much for talking with us.
Thank you very much.