msnbc News   |  April 10, 2010

Crash decimates Polish leadership, says Brzezinski

Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski  joins msnbc’s Alex Witt to discuss the death of the Polish president, who was en route to ceremonies marking the anniversary of the massacre of thousands of Polish officers by Soviet secret police.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> top story . polish president lech kaczynski is dead along with his wife after his plane crashed amid heavy fog while on approach to the smolensk airport in northern russian . all 96 passengers on board were killed. we're joined now on the phone by the former national security adviser to president jimmy carter and prominent polish american , zbigniew brzezinski . what kind of disarray does this leave the country of poland with not only the president and their first lady dead, but other prominent leaders there? there was a tremendous delegation. you have the head of national security , the head of the national bank of poland , the head of the army chief of staff .

>> well, it's a massive upheaval in terms of the polish government arrangements in terms of the leading personalities of the country. it's a december mags of the leadership. but a pro tem president is already installed. subordinates of the military commanders will be automatically upgraded. but, of course, you cannot compensate for the loss of human talent . these were the top people in all of the major professions.

>> and your reaction when you heard must have been shocking, given just the immediacy of a plane crash .

>> well, my reaction, in a way, was almost centered on the word " katyn ," because katyn is such a tragedy in the polish historical psyche. it's the place where the soviets murdered much of the polish intellectual and military elite. thousands and thousands of them. and now this is compounded with this death, because these people were going there to pay homage to the victims in katyn and to engage in reconciliation with the russians . because also many russians were killed by stalin and were buried in katyn . so it was a tragic moment. the mission was tragedy wick aitragic, a nd the outcome in human sense and political sense was very tragic.

>> yes. can you describe the relationship or almost the job descriptions of the polish president versus that of the polish prime minister ?

>> i think the system is more like france or germany. that is to say the president has certain powers, not as much as the french president , but a little more than the german -- but the chief executive officer of the government is the prime minister. and he was not on the trip.

>> all right.

>> moreover, there is -- primaries because the presidential elections are coming up. and a close associate of the prime minister was designated to be the candidate for the presidency. he happens to be the speaker of the parliament . and therefore, right now, he, in fact, has become the pro tem president of the country. and most likely will run for office in about two months from now and probably will win.

>> lech kaczynski , describe him as you know him and the way he is perceived throughout poland and his countrymen.

>> he was admired for his sense of patriotism and his commitment to independence. he was also controversial because he was the leader of a right of center party , which had some strong views on a number of controversial subjects, social, ethical, abortion, things of that sort. but he was universally respected for his patriotism. and his sense that independence is the most important mission of the country and it's his personal mission as president. so he's very much identified with the recovery of independence by the pols from the soviet domination. his wife was similarly committed and she died with him.

>> maria, yes. do you see as being troublesome for the relationship in the future between poland and america ?

>> no. there is general consensus this is the most important relationship for the pols. paradoxically, i think there is one possible change in external relations because of this. and that's reconciliation with the russians . recently, the polish prime minister did not accident, and hemo he more or less acknowledged stalin's responsibility for the crime. but he was a little reticent. but he's now flying to katyn and he will probably be joined there by the polish prime minister , and that, i think, creates a further opportunity for the reconciliation, to become deeper and maybe a little warmer, a little more human. putin 's speech a week or so ago was good, but it was rather cold. i think this is a chance for kind of a human reconciliation.

>> all right, well, zbigniew brzezinski , as we're taking a live look from warsaw outside the presidential palace where mourners are coming to pay their respects, just a very large gathering of flowers and candles is beginning to creep up there. zbigniew brzezinski , former national security adviser to president carter and for our purposes here at msnbc, the father of our good friend and colleague mika , who is on " morning joe ," thank you very much for your time and your insights, sir.

>> nice to talk with you, alex .

>> nice to talk with you too, thank you. meantime, as