Poland has inaugurated a new canal that will allow ships to avoid Russian waters. The opening was held to coincide today with the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Poland in 1939.
“The opening of this investment is a great victory for Poland, for patriots, for those who understand the word sovereignty,” declared President Andrzej Duda at the ceremony.
“A state that values its potential cannot allow someone else to decide its affairs. Poland needs this [canal] to become independent of Russian decisions,” he added, quoted by Onet.
The 1,300-metre-long canal – construction of which began in 2019 – cuts across the Vistula Spit, thereby linking the Baltic Sea with the Vistula Lagoon. It will allow vessels to pass between the two without having to go through the current channel that is in the waters of Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave.
The project – whose budget has spiralled from an original 880 million zloty to around 2 billion zloty (€424 million) – has been hailed as a vital economic and geopolitical investment by the Polish government.
But it has also raised concerns from environmentalists about the damage to local habitats while others have questioned whether the relatively small canal will provide much practical benefit. Duda, however, today dismissed the latter concern.
“The question is not whether the largest ships will be able to pass; we have other ports for this,” he declared.” The point is that symbolically this path should be open, so we do not have to ask for the consent of a country that is not friendly towards us, whose authorities do not hesitate to attack and enslave others.”
Speaking this week to Business Insider Polska, the president of the port of Gdańsk, further west along the Baltic coast, said that if smaller ships can use the new canal to reach the port of Elbląg – which is accessible through the Vistula Lagoon – it will help free up capacity for larger vessels in Gdańsk.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, also speaking at the ceremony, noted that, “on the 83rd anniversary of the Soviet attack on Poland, we are breaking the last symbolic ties of dependence”. After the Second World War, Poland fell under decades of Soviet-backed communist rule.
“We were dependent on Russia, but today we are cutting this dependence, including gas dependence,” Morawiecki continued. “We are cutting our dependence on both Russia and Germany.”
Between 2006 and 2010, Russia imposed a ban on shipping from passing into the Vistula Lagoon, causing economic harm to Elbląg, notes financial news service Money.pl. Both Morawiecki and ruling party chairman Jarosław Kaczyński argued during their speeches today that the new canal will now open up economic opportunities for the city.
⛴️ Premier @MorawieckiM podczas otwarcia kanału żeglugowego przez #MierzejaWiślana: Otwierany dzisiaj kanał to droga wolności, nowych szans i możliwości. Zrywamy symbolicznie, w dniu 83. rocznicy napaści Związku Radzieckiego na Polskę, ostatnie pęta naszej zależności od Rosji. pic.twitter.com/FjSD8zNAFs
— Kancelaria Premiera (@PremierRP) September 17, 2022
However, work has not yet been completed on dredging a channel from the canal to Elbląg, meaning that larger vessels are currently unable to enter the city’s port. The government says it is up to local authorities to finish the work.
But Elbląg’s mayor, Witold Wróblewski, disagrees, telling Business Insider Polska this week that it is the state’s responsibility to finish the investment it has undertaken. He suggests that it has not done so because Wróblewski belongs to an opposition party.
The mayor says that negotiations are still underway over the issue, with the government hoping to take control of or at least a significant stake in Elbląg’s port. Deputy infrastructure minister Marek Gróbarczyk told TVP this week that 10,000-tonne-capacity ships would be able to enter the port within a year.
17 września rząd oficjalnie otworzy przekop przez Mierzeję Wiślaną. W tle fety trwa jednak awantura, bo władze w Warszawie nie chcą inwestycji dokończyć tak, by doszła do samego Elbląga. Prezydent Witold Wróblewski uważa, że problem wynika z dużej mierze… https://t.co/NOx7P2zKFR
— Business Insider Polska 🇵🇱 (@BIPolska) September 12, 2022
Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.