Poland is building a new waterway in the north of the country to allow ships to enter its port of Elbląg without passing through the Strait of Baltiysk in Russia's Kaliningrad region.
The Russian authorities have opposed the digging of the canal ever since the idea was first proposed by Polish officials years ago, the U.S. research and analysis institute the Jamestown Foundation said.
It added that the project is now moving into high gear, with completion scheduled for 2022.
Workers have finished clearing the ground cover and begun digging the canal itself, the Jamestown Foundation said on its website.
“Meanwhile, Moscow commentators are shifting from complaints about its supposed environmental impact to suggestions that the only reason it is being built is to give North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) warships access to Kaliningrad Bay (Vistula Lagoon) without having to first pass close by the Russian military facilities at Baltiysk,” the analysis, posted on the jamestown.org website, said.
It added that Moscow commentators were arguing that the canal presented a direct threat to the security of Kaliningrad and the Russian Federation as a whole.
The analysis, penned by Paul Goble, cited one Moscow security affairs commentator as saying that Russia is still hoping to kill the project by mobilizing opposition among environmentalists in Poland and Europe and by supporting the opposition to the Polish government.
New canal will boost Poland’s sovereignty: president
Poland’s president said at the end of May that the new shipping canal to the Baltic Sea near Russia’s Kaliningrad region would help strengthen his country’s sovereignty.
Speaking at the site of the planned new waterway, President Andrzej Duda said that the project “will help strengthen Poland’s sovereignty and enhance its independence and freedom.”
“We will no longer have to ask the Russians … but will have our own waterway,” he added.
Strategic passage near Russian border
The Polish government in October inked a huge deal with a consortium of private firms to dig the strategic canal between the Vistula Lagoon and the Bay of Gdańsk.
Under the deal, a Polish-Belgian consortium is expected to build the new waterway for PLN 992 million (EUR 230 million, USD 252 million) by 2022.
The new waterway between the Vistula Lagoon and the Bay of Gdańsk will be around 1.3 kilometres long and five metres deep, officials have said.
It will be built by digging through the Vistula Spit, a narrow strip of land that separates the bay from the lagoon on Polish territory.
The aim is to allow deep-draft vessels to enter Poland’s Elbląg seaport without passing through the Strait of Baltiysk in Russia's Kaliningrad exclave.
The plan to build the canal requires the construction of 22.8 kilometres of new water routes, an artificial island and civil engineering and road infrastructure.
Officials have estimated the total cost of the project at almost PLN 2 billion.
Poland’s ruling party head Jarosław Kaczyński said in October 2018 that the planned new canal near the Russian border would help enhance his country’s military as well as economic sovereignty.
Kaczyński, who leads Poland’s governing Law and Justice party, said in September 2018 that the plan to build the canal showed that Russia, Poland’s former communist-era overlord, could no longer dictate to Warsaw what to do.
Work on track despite Russian ire: gov’t minister
A government minister warned in late May that Russia would try to throw a spanner in the works as Poland presses ahead with efforts to dig the strategic canal.
The massive project is now in its first stage and “is not threatened despite the fact that Russia will be bending over backwards to block it,” Maritime Affairs and Inland Navigation Minister Marek Gróbarczyk told public broadcaster Polish Radio.
A right-wing Polish website said last month that environmentalists protesting against the Polish canal project were standing “shoulder to shoulder with Russia.”