Poland President Andrzej Duda on Russia’s war in Ukraine, Putin’s nuclear threats

Ukraine's largest neighbor on its western border is Poland, a NATO and European Union member that has its own long and violent history with Russia. Judy Woodruff sat down in New York with Poland's president, Andrzej Duda, as Vladimir Putin looks to accelerate the war and makes overt threats of nuclear weaponry.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ukraine's largest neighbor on its Western border is Poland, a NATO and European Union member that has had its own long and violent history with Russia.

    As Vladimir Putin looks to accelerate the war, I sat down in New York early this afternoon with Poland's President Andrzej Duda.

    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 doesn't belong to him, and now with this overt threat of nuclear weaponry, that it should make our blood run cold.

    Is that how you take what's going on?

  • Andrzej Duda, Polish President (through translator):

    Russia is in a difficult situation.

    Russia has demonstrated its weakness. What Russia has been doing so far in Ukraine, the aggression and all the outrageous dimensions of the war which Russia demonstrated in Ukraine, as a matter of fact, have turned out to be a failure of Russia. Russia tries to change its tactics at the same time it tries to threaten the world with nuclear weapons.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How does the statement from President Putin that he is going to mobilize up to hundreds of thousands more troops to fight this war, that he's in this for the long haul, how does that change the war right now?

  • Andrzej Duda (through translator):

    Please bear in mind that, at the beginning, before the war happened, the experts were saying it would be enough for Russia to conquer the whole of Ukraine within 72 hours.

    However, they failed to seize the whole of Ukraine. You can see an attempt to save face. And this mobilization, this partial mobilization, which was announced in Russia, well, it causes a horror among his society because thousands of Russian soldiers have already died in Ukraine.

    There will be further thousands following. This is going to be the policy of the Russian authorities right now. So, we can see a weakness of Russia in this respect.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So are you saying — you keep referring to Russian weakness. Are you saying that the rest of the world should not take his threat seriously when he says, we are prepared to use all means necessary?

    And,, they have an enormous nuclear arsenal?

  • Andrzej Duda (through translator):

    First of all, nobody attacked Russia. Nobody attacked Russia. The Russian aggression in Ukraine is a totally unprovoked aggression.

    Number two, they have committed murders there, and they know that today they are threatened by criminal accountability. Therefore, the Russian authorities and Vladimir Putin started to threaten. What can they threaten with? The only thing they can threaten with is nuclear weapons.

    If this Ukraine, which is defending itself, which has no nuclear weapons, if this Ukraine is attacked by nuclear weapons, even to smallest degree, even if they were the so-called tactical nuclear weapons used, the most modern ones, the smallest ones, that would break the world taboo. And Russia would find itself on the margins of any sensible political debate whatsoever.

    The whole world would turn its back on Russia. Even those countries which today support Russia silently or openly, even those countries will find themselves in a dramatic position, and they will have to say that Russia will have violated all the principles.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So what should Ukraine and the West do right now? You are describing Russia as backed into a corner, making threats out of weakness.

    What should Ukraine and the West do? Provide more weapons to Ukraine? What needs to happen now? Where do you see this going?

  • Andrzej Duda (through translator):

    One should support Ukraine in a consistent and stable way, also by providing military equipment to Ukraine.

    Why? Because in order to be able to speak about an orderly world, about a world in which peace is going to be guarded and protected, then Ukraine has to regain control over its internationally recognized borders. One has to support Ukraine to make sure that it defends itself, so that Russians are forced to withdraw from Ukraine to give back the occupied lands to Ukraine.

    And then we have to help Ukraine rebuild itself. This is the most important task facing us today. Ukraine has to regain its territory. Russia has to withdraw. The primacy of international law has to be restored.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are you absolutely confident Russia will not use nuclear weapons?

  • Andrzej Duda (through translator):

    Well, this is a question which you cannot give an answer to. Nobody can be sure of that 100 percent.

    Russia, which has never used nuclear weapons so far — and I want to stress this point. Never, ever, even, in the times of the most acute Cold War, even in the times when the tensions were running high, Russia has never applied nuclear weapons. And, in particular, it has never used nuclear weapons against a state which is not equipped with nuclear weapons itself. That would break all the taboos.

    And I believe that the Russian authorities know that perfectly well. It is not only Vladimir Putin, also the inner circle of Vladimir Putin, also the strategic military decisions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The West has been largely united against Russia up until now.

    But if this war drags on for a very long time, with the economy being what it is, with winter coming, are you concerned at all that that unity could come apart?

  • Andrzej Duda (through translator):

    Of course, this situation is very challenging. There are two overarching topics, first of all, the energy crisis, and, secondly, inflation.

    Of course, on top of that, there is a third extremely important topic, namely, the food crisis. But the question that arises is as follows. If we want to have an easier life, if we want to pay lower prices, are we going to agree, for the sake of that, to one of the nations' independence, sovereignty and freedom?

    Can we agree to one European country, which wants to be a democratic state, which wants to belong to the Western community and be a free, independent state? If we agree to that, then Russia will not stop. It will want to bite off other pieces of territory. It will want to seize the Baltic states, perhaps my country, Poland. Perhaps it also wants to seize Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia.

    This is the former Soviet sphere of influence. We have to say no to this, and we are saying no.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last question is about your country, about Poland.

    You are clearly siding with the West in opposing what Putin and the Russians are doing in Ukraine. At the same time, your country has taken what is seen in the United States, by the U.S. Biden administration as some extreme positions.

    There was a challenge to an independent television network. There are questions about the independence of your judiciary. Your country's policy toward abortion is very extreme, with — there are extreme limits on abortion in Poland.

    So my question is, as the United States looks at your government and the positions you have taken, it's been — the question is raised, is this a country that's moving in an authoritarian direction or in the direction of democracy? What's your answer?

  • Andrzej Duda (through translator):

    First, let's start with the following.

    Poland is a sovereign, independent and free state. The program which is being implemented in Poland, including the political program, is the program which voters wanted to have. These are purely Democratic principles. This is how it functions in Poland today.

    I'm listening to my voters and, hence, I'm making decisions which I believe meet their expectations. They are just decisions, and correct ones in their perspective.

    I believe the president of the Republic of Poland has got this authority in our country and has constitutional powers. The president has instruments to stop any given amendment. Everybody knew who I am and what my convictions are when I was running for president. I was not hiding anything.

    My mandate is the mandate which I won democratically, and there haven't ever been any doubts about that in Poland. And I'm implementing the mandate today with full responsibility.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We are going to leave it there.

    President Duda, we thank you very much for talking with us.

  • Andrzej Duda (through translator):

    Thank you very much.

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