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There's no diplomatic path to end Russia's assault on Ukraine, Polish diplomat says

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Next door to Ukraine, Poland has become a key player in Russia's war. As a member of the European Union and NATO, it is a strategic center of gravity for military and humanitarian aid, and it has welcomed Ukrainians who have fled. Yesterday, I sat down with Poland's ambassador to the United States. Marek Magieroweski said Poland is trying to integrate about 2.7 million refugees as quickly as possible.

MAREK MAGIEROWESKI: This outpouring of solidarity and sympathy towards our Ukrainian brethren has been really remarkable, and I'm so proud of my nation. On the other hand, Poland is filling up right now, so mayors of many Polish cities are now in talks with their counterparts and colleagues in Europe and beyond in order to find a solution - how to relocate those Ukrainian migrants. Of course, they are still welcome in Poland. We are ready to take in many more refugees.

FADEL: Right.

MAGIEROWESKI: For example...

FADEL: I mean, I was on the Polish border...

MAGIEROWESKI: Yeah.

FADEL: ...And I watched so many stream across the border, and it was striking to watch women and children - no men.

MAGIEROWESKI: Mostly.

FADEL: And they came in because, obviously...

MAGIEROWESKI: Ah. Yes.

FADEL: ...The men could not come out.

MAGIEROWESKI: Yeah. A few weeks ago, the Polish Parliament passed a law which essentially facilitates the integration of Ukrainian refugees into the Polish society. For example, they can apply for Polish IDs. They can set up their own businesses. They can send their children to Polish schools. By the way, about 180,000 Ukrainian children have already been incorporated into the Polish schooling system.

FADEL: You know, I have to ask you, though, Ambassador - when I was in Poland, it was incredible and heartwarming to watch the way Polish citizens just showed up to help strangers, but a lot of critics look at the policy when it came to Ukrainian refugees and compare it to the policies of a much smaller group of refugees - from places like Syria, from places like Afghanistan - where the Polish government decided to build a wall and not allow them to come in, and there was rhetoric like they might bring epidemics with them from the president.

MAGIEROWESKI: There was a distinct difference between these two migration crises because, in this case, when we are now facing that conflagration in Ukraine, Poland is the first country in which those refugees can seek asylum, unlike, in the case of all those African and Syrian and Iraqi refugees who were trying to cross the border with Poland illegally, pushed literally by the Belarusian military. So it was not a migration crisis. It was an artificially created conflict. The reaction of the Polish government was absolutely correct and justifiable.

FADEL: So what do you say to critics that want to paint it as something racial, frankly?

MAGIEROWESKI: It was definitely not. I would like to remind you that, after the Chechen Wars in the '90s, we admitted about 60,000 refugees from Chechnya because we came to the conclusion that it was our moral obligation to help those people who were oppressed, again, by the Russian invaders.

FADEL: Now, we've talked a lot about the humanitarian crisis, which Poland is on the front line of, but you're also on the front line of this actual war.

MAGIEROWESKI: Of the military crisis.

FADEL: Of the military crisis, exactly. And some of these strikes have been 30 miles from the Polish border. How concerned are you about a wider war engulfing Poland and Europe?

MAGIEROWESKI: Of course, we are pretty much concerned about this ongoing war. I think that we are dealing now with pure evil, and this has always been a very consistent stance of Poland, of the Polish authorities. We know Russia very well. We had foresight. We have always been trying to alert the world that those near-imperial ambitions of the people who are sitting in the Kremlin are really dangerous to the rest of the world. Ukraine is not the last item on Mr. Putin's menu, but if we have more U.S. and NATO troops on Polish soil, if we have more military equipment, if we are better armed - also as NATO member - the more secure we will feel in the future.

FADEL: What does that look like? Being better armed, having more troops - I mean, what are the asks here?

MAGIEROWESKI: We have purchased F-35s. We have purchased Abrams tanks. We are arming ourselves because we know very well - we are acutely aware of the fact that, in spite of being a member of NATO, we have to be ready to defend ourselves. I don't believe in a major confrontation between NATO and Russia right now, and that's why we have to arm Ukraine. We have to deliver them the most sophisticated weapons.

FADEL: Should they be getting fighter jets? I mean, that was something that, over...

MAGIEROWESKI: I will explain this to you.

FADEL: ...A bunch of diplomatic missteps...

MAGIEROWESKI: Yeah.

FADEL: ...It didn't go through.

MAGIEROWESKI: There was a controversy...

FADEL: Right.

MAGIEROWESKI: ...Also surrounding our Soviet-made aircraft. They account - those MiGs that you have just mentioned account for one-third of our fleet of combat aircraft. We can't deplete our fleet by one-third. It would be absolutely absurd and unacceptable in terms of our defense policy, and that's why we came up with that proposal to put those aircraft at the disposal of NATO. Those are not only Polish aircraft. Those are also NATO aircraft, and it should be a unanimous decision and a common effort of all NATO member countries to decide whether the Ukrainians should be supplied with these aircraft.

FADEL: So do you agree with the decision so far that these fighter jets have not gone to Ukraine?

MAGIEROWESKI: The proposal is still on the table. Again, we should move on and find the right solutions - how to arm Ukraine in the most effective manner - because I don't believe in a diplomatic solution of this conflict. I do believe in a military solution - namely, a definitive and total defeat of the Russian Army in Ukraine.

FADEL: But how does a military victory come about without also a diplomatic path?

MAGIEROWESKI: Believe me, that transfer of military equipment to Ukraine has been massive over the last few weeks, and they are capable - they will be capable of crushing the Russian Army. And if we talk about a hypothetical end of those hostilities, there are some conditions that the international community should set to Russia. They should withdraw all their troops, not only from Ukraine proper, but also from those territories annexed and occupied since 2014 - from Crimea and from those two Eastern republics. They should pay war reparations to Ukraine. Ukraine is now devastated. And all those war criminals who have committed unspeakable crimes in Ukraine should be tried and sentenced.

FADEL: And my last question - and you got at this a little bit, but is Poland preparing for war?

MAGIEROWESKI: We are always prepared for war. And of course, in light of this growing aggressiveness of the Russian Federation and President Putin himself, we need to be even better prepared. On a final note, he wants to win the Cold War - not the new Cold War. He wants to win the Cold War which ended at the beginning of the '90s.

FADEL: I guess that's why I just can't imagine a situation in which Vladimir Putin says, OK, I'll accept defeat in the way that this has gone.

MAGIEROWESKI: Maybe he will not accept defeat, but maybe his society will understand that that's enough. That's enough.

FADEL: Ambassador, a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you so much for your time.

MAGIEROWESKI: Thank you very much.

FADEL: Marek Magieroweski is Poland's ambassador to the United States.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.