Interview with Michal Sznajder of TVN

Victoria Nuland
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Warsaw, Poland
February 11, 2016

Question: (In Polish) Good evening, guests of TVN24 Business and the World. Here is Victoria Nuland, Head of the European and Eurasian Affairs from the U.S. Department of State. (In English) Good evening, Madame Ambassador. Thank you for joining us today.

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Good evening. Thanks for having me.

Question: What are the crucial topics right now between Warsaw and Washington that you spoke about today?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well, as you know, we are building towards the Warsaw NATO summit in July. So we spent a lot of time talking about strengthening NATO to the east, strengthening NATO to the south and ensuring that we finish our work for Warsaw, so that our populations feel our alliance is unified and keeping them safe in these very challenging times. So a lot of our time was spent on that. But of course our relationship is very deep and very strong. We also talked about energy security. We talked about our economic relationship, the work we are doing together to promote the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. We talked about democracy. We talked about the migration crisis–all of the many forces that we are working on together.

Question: Madame Secretary, you spoke about strengthening NATO. Many Polish politicians would like to strengthen NATO in this part of Europe by putting a permanent presence of NATO forces on Polish soil. How does Washington understand permanent presence, realistically speaking?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well, Michal, as you probably know, President Obama released his 2017 budget to the U.S. Congress, which quadruples the amount of money that we are putting into security in Europe. That will allow us to do many things at the same time to bring more security to this part of the world, first and foremost, to ensure that the persistent rotations on land, sea, and air of American forces that you’ve seen in Poland and the Baltics states, Romania, and Bulgaria will continue through 2017. We are calling on other allies to make that same commitment. It will also allow us to pre-position equipment both in Poland and in other parts of the east. It will also allow us to strengthen infrastructure in some of the more traditional bases in Western Europe, so that we can get here faster, in extremis, if we need to. So we are trying to send a strong message, both of deterrence and of readiness, and, for Polish populations and others who live in this part of the world, of reassurance–that we mean what we say with Article 5 and with our Alliance.

Question: Persistent rotation, Madame Secretary, you said, but many Polish politicians would like to hear that Washington is ready to offer, for example, a permanent base full of U.S. soldiers. Would that be possible? Would that be something Washington would be willing to do?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: What we’re talking about now is this strengthening and deepening of our partnership with Poland. So you’ve got permanent bases here. We will have equipment here. We will have forces regularly here, and we will have a better capacity to come in numbers if we are needed. That is the concept that we are working from now.

Question: Why not keep a permanent group of soldiers here?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: You know, in – in U.S. military doctrine, in global military doctrine, we are doing less with static forces. We’re doing more with rotational forces that gives us the flexibility to go where we are needed. What’s most important is that Polish and U.S. forces–Polish and NATO forces–are ready, are here together, are exercising regularly, that your bases are strong and ready, that you have equipment here, and all of those things are already happening, and more will come in years to come.

Question: How would you reassure those people who say unless there is a permanent presence here–the Polish Minister of Defense said yesterday that NATO has agreed to a permanent, big permanently strengthening the NATO forces here–so how would you reassure those people who say that perhaps a rotational system is simply not enough?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well, I would simply say our deterrence has been strong over the last two years. We have not seen more movements to test us. We have seen obviously small things, but not the kind of things we worried about when the Ukrainian crisis happened in 2014, but we’ll obviously continue to evaluate what is needed and make adjustments as an Alliance, make adjustments as U.S. and Poland, as needed.

Question: Perhaps if Poland gets really involved in the fight against ISIS, will that work as some sort of a deal? We help out in the south. You help us out more in the eastern part of Europe. Is that how that is supposed to work?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Michal, we don’t see a trade here. We don’t see a quid pro quo. What we see is that as a NATO family, we have challenges from the east–those well understood and known here. We also have challenges from the south. You see that with the awful situation in Syria, with our fight together against ISIL, with the migrants coming up into Europe as a result of the suffering going on there. So as Allies, as free nations, we have a responsibility to be strong in the east, but we also have a responsibility to make a contribution to the south. There are many, many things that we value about Poland as an Ally, but among them is the fact that Poland has always contributed both to its immediate existential security needs in the Alliance, and to the needs of others. So when Poland is able to make a contribution in the combat–in the fight against ISIS–that provides solidarity and unity, and it encourages other allies, in addition to the United States, to make a contribution here in Poland as well. So it’s part of the larger conversation we are having about Allies, as Allies, about supporting each other.

Question: How difficult is it for Washington to balance reassuring friends and Allies like Poland, and not giving Vladimir Putin an argument to say the West has provoked us again?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Everything that we are doing here and in this part of world is defensive in nature. We are not threatening Russia, we haven’t threatened Russia at all during this period. It is Russia that has changed the rules of the international order by invading countries on its borders. So, what we are doing is defensive. And that is very clear by the way we are managing our relationship here. It may be useful for Russians to see otherwise, but we know what we are doing.

Question: How dangerous is Russia in your opinion, Madame Secretary?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well you know what we are trying to do. We are trying to be strong together. We are trying to say that, you know, there is a better way for Russia to manage its interests in these conversations. So in the Ukraine context, even as we are strong with our sanctions, and insisting that Minsk–the Minsk agreements–be fully implemented, that Russia withdraws its forces, that Russia returns sovereignty to Ukraine, in the context of Minsk, we are also maintaining sanctions until, until, that happens. In the Syria context, we are also trying to engage Russia in a conversation. My boss, Secretary Kerry, is in Munich today working in the International Syria Support Group to try to make the case that if Russia would end its siege of Aleppo, start hitting ISIS instead of hitting anti-Assad forces and the moderate opposition, and contribute to a political transition where Assad leaves the stage, it can be an affirmative player in this conversation rather than what’s happening now. So we will always continue with Russia to encourage better behavior, encourage it to work with us on global problems, but the choice is Russia’s, and, if Russia continues to endanger friends, allies, partners of ours, we will have to be firm.

Question: One last question if I may. I know we have to finish, but the Warsaw Summit–the NATO Summit–how important will that summit be?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well it’s certainly very important for the transition that NATO is making, as I said, to providing more security both to the east and the south. But it’s also important as a celebration of our family of values, and that’s one of the most important things about NATO. We are all free democracies. We are all strong democracies, and we need to remind ourselves that we are in this not simply as a matter of security, but also as a matter of defending our free democratic way of life–whether it’s against autocrats, whether it’s against terrorists, whether it’s against forces of disunity within our family, whether it’s against the xenophobic tendencies in all of our nations–and so I think it will be a very important moment for the free world to gather and say we are strong together, we can meet today’s challenges, and we can do it in Warsaw.

Question: Thank you very much, Madame Secretary.

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Thank you, Michal.