Poland Builds Canal to Bypass Russian Waters

The Vistula Lagoon and Vistula Spit; Baltiysk entrance is at top center (NASA / Wikimedia)

By The Maritime Executive 09-25-2018 08:46:00

On Monday, Polish leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski promised to move forward with a plan to build a canal between the Baltic and the Vistula Lagoon, circumventing the current access route through Russian waters. 

Polish traffic departing the port of Elblag currently has to pass through the Russian side of the lagoon and out through a channel near Baltiysk, Kaliningrad. The new canal would bisect the Polish side of the Vistula Spit, a thin strip of land that separates the lagoon from the sea, and would give Polish vessels direct access to and from the port. At just over one kilometer in length and 16 feet of depth, the canal's scale is small, but its political symbolism is much larger.

"In the end Poland needs to shed the last traces of being a dependent state," Kaczynski said in an interview. "We need to show that that times Russia dictated what we could or not do on our territory are over.”

Russia has complained that the proposed canal would be a threat to the lagoon's ecology. In an interview, Kaczynski responded that Russia's Nord Stream 2 pipelines were a much greater ecological risk. Polish maritime minister Marek Grobarczyk went further, suggesting that Russia's protests "can be disregarded given the current geopolitical situation."

Russian media noted that the canal affects a strategic location: Elblag is the home base for NATO - Multinational Division North-East, a new command tasked with training and preparing NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroups. In 2016, after Russia annexed Crimea, NATO's members agreed to forward-deploy four battlegroups to the states most at risk of Russian attack or invasion.

The canal is expected to cost about $250 million, and will be complete by 2022.