Poland has opened a new waterway so ships will no longer need to request permission for Russia to cross the Baltic Sea.
National officials say the move gives Poland sovereignty in the country’s northeast region.
The canal was formally opened on Sept. 17 – the 83rd anniversary of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Poland during World War II. Thousands of people attended the ceremony to watch as the Zodiak II technical ship became the inaugural ship to pass through the canal.
“The idea was to have this waterway opened and not to have to ask permission anymore from a country that is not friendly and whose authorities do not hesitate to attack and subdue others,” said Polish President Andrzej Dudain in a statement.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said opening the canal was “a way toward freedom, new opportunities and new possibilities.” He also said the project was “ a testimony to the will, ability to fulfill, and striving for a strong, independent and sovereign Poland,” according to the Polish Press Agency.
Though it is not officially finished, the canal costs roughly 2 billion zlotys ($420 million) and traverses the Vistula Lagoon, stretching approximately 14 feet between the Gulf of Gdańsk to Elblag. Elblag is the country’s fourth largest port. Ships will now be able to cross the Baltic Sea and reach smaller regional ports without needing to request authorization to cross the Strait of Pilawa which is controlled by Russia.
The government has said the region will now be open to new economic development.
“Poland is a truly independent, sovereign and strong nation that matters,” said Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who leads the nation’s right-wing political party, per The Hindustan Times. He supported the canal project which he said will lead to “a new impulse for the development of this land” and reduce unemployment.
While small ships and yachts can currently travel through the Vistula Spit, cargo ships will not be able to fully use the waterway until the area near the Port of Elblag is deepened 16 feet (5 meters). The project will cost 100 million zlotys ($21 million), per AP News.
Poland began construction of the canal in February of 2019.
The Jamestown Foundation, a defense policy think tank, reported in June of 2020 that the Russian government had hoped “to kill the project by mobilizing opposition among environmentalists in Poland and Europe and by supporting the opposition to the Polish government” out of concern that the canal would give NATO warships access to the Vistula Lagoon, which is also known as Kaliningrad Bay.