Poland: Warsaw Hopes to Increase Its Autonomy with a New Canal

By On September 27, 2018

Poland: Warsaw Hopes to Increase Its Autonomy with a New Canal

The Big Picture

At a time of uncertainty about the future of the global order, Poland is trying to strengthen its strategic autonomy in the defense, energy and trade realms. An ongoing project to build a canal connecting a Polish port to the Baltic Sea is a small piece of the bigger puzzle, which sits in line with Warsaw's overall strategy.

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What Happened

The leader of Poland's governing Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has promised that Warsaw will soon start building a canal connecting the Baltic Sea and the Vistula Lagoon in the north of the country. Currently, ships using the Polish port of Elblag, in the Vistula Lagoon, can only reach the Baltic Sea through a canal on the Russian side of the lagoon, near Baltiysk in Kaliningrad. To use the Strait of Baltiysk, Poland has to pay navigation rights to Russia. In an interview on S ept. 24, Kaczynski said the canal project will enhance Poland's independence and promised that "the times when Russia dictated what we could or not do on our territory are over."

Some Background

The project was authorized by the Polish parliament in 2017, despite concerns about its environmental impact. The new canal, which would cost about 250 million euros ($292 million) and is expected to be ready by 2022, would be less than a mile long and 16 feet deep. It will probably benefit the economy of the region, since it will make sailing on the Vistula Lagoon possible all year round. Defending the project in early 2017, former Elblag mayor and Law and Justice lawmaker Jerzy Wilk said the canal would bring development to the area and attract tourism. However, since Elblag is not a deep-water port and big commercial vessels cannot use it, the new project will not challenge the preeminence of bigger ports like Gdansk and Szczecin.

Why It Matters

From a political point of view, the project will allow the Polish government to show voters that it is working hard to strengthen its position against Russia in a variety of ways. In late 2015, for example, Poland inaugurated a liquified natural gas plant in the northern city of Swinoujscie that it hoped would diversify its energy suppliers and reduce its dependence on Russian natural gas. Poland has been very critical of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which would transport Russian natural gas to Germany through the Baltic Sea. In recent months, Warsaw has also asked the United States to open a permanent U.S. military base in Poland, and Washington has said it is analyzing the proposal.

In addition to the port, Elblag also hosts NATO's Multinational Division Northeast, which is in charge of training the alliance's Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroups. However, the canal doesn't raise much of a military concern for Russia, because larger vessels can't reach Elblag's port. If NATO wanted to build up its maritime forces in the Baltic area, there are better ports from which it could operate. All in all, the Vistula Lagoon canal initiative will have a modest economic impact, but a high political value.

Source: Google News Poland | Netizen 24 Poland

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