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Polish president said it’s ‘hard to deny’ genocide in Ukraine after images of civilians killed emerge

By Jeremy Herb, CNN

Polish President Andrzej Duda said on Wednesday that it’s “hard to deny” that Russian forces are committing genocide in Ukraine following the horrific images that have emerged from cities like Bucha showing civilians brutally killed.

“It is hard to deny this, of course. This is a crime which fulfills the features of a genocide, especially if you look at the context of different conversations that are being conducted,” Duda told CNN’s Dana Bash in an exclusive interview in Warsaw, Poland.

Duda said Russian propaganda about Moscow’s goal for the “denazification” of Ukraine shows that the country was looking for a false pretext “in order to carry out a massacre.”

“The fact that civilian inhabitants of Ukraine are being killed shows best what the goal of [the] Russian invasion is,” he said through a translator. “The goal of that invasion is simply to extinguish the Ukrainian nation.”

Duda, who was first elected Poland’s president in 2015 and has served through three US administrations, is leading the country as it plays a key role supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia, is grappling with an influx of Ukrainian refugees, is pushing for further sanctions on Russia and is providing weapons to Ukraine.

Millions of Ukrainians have fled across the country’s border into Poland. As a member of the NATO alliance, Poland has been one of the countries where US and NATO troops have deployed to bolster NATO’s eastern flank as a deterrent to Russia.

There have been some challenges, too. Ukraine sought Poland’s MiG-29 fighter jets to help in its fight against Russia, but the effort to get the planes to Ukraine fell apart after Poland publicly proposed providing them to the US through a German airbase to ship to Ukraine. The US said such a plan wasn’t feasible, and the planes weren’t sent.

US President Joe Biden said Wednesday that “major war crimes” were being discovered in response to the images from Bucha, though he’s stopped short of labeling Russia’s attacks genocide. The Biden administration announced another new round of sanctions against Russia’s largest financial institutions and number of individuals tied to the Kremlin, including Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters.

‘The sanctions regime should be strengthened’

In the interview, Duda questioned the usefulness of diplomatic efforts with Russia at this point in the conflict. He said he wasn’t surprised at the criticism Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki leveled this week toward French President Emmanuel Macron, when Morawiecki said, “Nobody negotiated with Hitler.”

“Dialogue with Russia has no sense,” Duda said. “One has to present very tough conditions to Vladimir Putin. One has to say, ‘Unless you meet these conditions, we don’t have anything to talk about.’ We are going to provide support to Ukraine decisively, we are going to increase sanctions regime, because if you conduct a dialogue which does not achieve anything, it is only a game to buy time by Russia.”

As part of those conditions, Duda called for additional sanctions against Russia and its energy sector, bemoaning Europe’s reliance on Russian energy that has continued even as crippling sanctions have been enacted in other sectors.

“The sanctions regime should be strengthened. I have no doubt whatsoever about this,” Duda said. “This is of course, a very complex task. … The problem however, is that for some countries, well, this is fundamental for them.”

Duda noted that Poland opposed the creation of gas pipelines between Russia and Germany, saying they were “political projects” designed to bypass Poland and the Baltic countries. He called for the dismantling of the new Nord Stream II pipeline.

“Russia is blackmailing not only Germany, right now, Russia is blackmailing, in fact, the entire Europe,” Duda said. “The fact that we’re saying it is impossible to impose embargo on Russian gas, it is not possible to impose embargo on Russian oil right away.”

‘He is my direct neighbor’

Duda said that he speaks to Zelensky perhaps most frequently among world leaders. “He is my direct neighbor. He’s my colleague,” Duda said. “I have this deep sense that we have to do everything to help Ukraine. Yes, this is the feeling that I have stemming not only from the necessity to provide security to Poland, we want the Ukrainian state to exist as independent, sovereign and free.”

The Polish leader said that he suspects part of Putin’s strategy is to try to destabilize Poland and other surrounding countries with a refugee crisis from Ukraine, but he said his country has been able to manage the influx of refugees fleeing Ukraine so far.

“To a certain extent, I’m proud with my compatriots who are helping, to thousands of political volunteers who are giving their hearts, they are not sleeping at night, in order to help the Ukrainian refugees,” Duda said. “I’m deeply grateful to them, for them. But on the other hand, I’m aware of how big an encumbrance it is for our country and for our society. And that is why I appeal for international assistance everywhere. And we are getting this assistance.”

Duda acknowledged he’s concerned about the war in Ukraine spilling into Poland and said there should be little doubt that Poland could be threatened by Moscow in the future.

“In a situation of Russian aggression on Ukraine, that military people call it a full-fledged invasion, I think that under these circumstances, nobody has any doubt that Poland is potentially threatened by a Russian aggression in a future,” Duda said. “So because of that, we need to spend on our defense potential.”

A ‘vivid’ and ‘fruitful’ relationship

During the 2020 campaign, Biden was critical of Poland, lumping it in along with Hungary and Belarus to warn about a rise in totalitarian regimes and to criticize then-President Donald Trump for embracing “thugs in the world.” But Duda had nothing but warm words for Biden in Wednesday’s interview, saying he valued his relationship with all three American presidents he’s served alongside.

“The friendship with the United States, this military alliance is of key importance to us,” Duda said, noting that US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division is currently in Poland. “I’m really delighted that my cooperation that I have today with the President of the United States is so vivid, it’s so good, so fruitful. And I deeply believe that President Joe Biden is glad with his visit to Poland, that he believes it was an important and good visit. That thanks to that visit, he also was able to see with his own eyes that picture of what the situation is like.”

Asked whether he can sleep well at night so long as Putin is in power, Duda said, “I don’t sleep soundly … because I know what is happening behind the border.”

“Can a leader of a neighboring country sleep well in such a situation? It is very difficult, and indeed there is a high tension, there is a big stress that I’m under,” he continued. “But precisely because of this, I believe I should be doing this. I should do everything I can in order to help in this situation. I should do whatever I can to make sure that Ukraine defends itself. I should do everything I can to stop Putin. Today, this is in the interest of Ukraine, but this is also in the interest of my country, of Poland, of my compatriots. It is also in the interest of the entire central Europe.”

After Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Duda said that he hopes the international community “will never again talk to Vladimir Putin.”

“I hope that nobody is going to consider him as a decent and fair leader, or politician simply,” Duda said.

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