Staunton, September 6 – The Rail Baltica project, eventually intended to link Berlin with Helsinki via Poland and the three Baltic countries is “extremely doubtful from an economic point of view” but has obvious security implications for the region and Russia’s interests there, according to Moscow commentator Igor Pavlovsky.
The project, which will allow trains to pass from one end of the line to the other without changing from Western to Russian gage track, may never carry as many passengers or as much freight as its boosters claim, he writes on Regnum.ru; but it can carry troops and materiel from the West to the border of Russia (regnum.ru/news/polit/1963529.html).
At the end of August, Vilnius reported that the first link of the Rail Baltica! Project had been completed and that “for the first time since 1939, a passenger train without changing wheels had gone from Warsaw to Kaunas.” Other countries involved have long talked about such a line but relatively little had been done until 2014, Pavlovsky says.
“The ideological basis of the project was the following: the Baltic countries have entered the EU” and thus needs to change its track gage to integrate them with the West rather than as now with the Russian rail system. No one, the Moscow analyst says, has been bothered by the fact that several other EU countries have different gaged tracks.
EU countries other than Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania would have to put up 85 percent of the financing of this effort, he continues, which would benefit the three Baltic countries but would yield little profit to Germany, France and other EU donors. Moreover, changing the gage in the Baltics would disrupt their primary role as transit countries into and out of Russia.
Given how little bilateral trade there is between the Baltic countries and the rest of the EU and given how small the populations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are, Pavlovsky says, there is little prospect for making money on this line either from the transport of goods or of people. “It would be cheaper and simpler” to keep the existing gage tracks and change them at the border, as Finland has done.
Despite that, Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius have pressed for the construction of “’a new European way’” over the top of “the imperial-Soviet infrastructure.” And Poland is interested in doing the same thing.
The reason is clear, Pavlovsky says, and it has nothing to do with economics. All those backing the Rail Baltica! idea are focused on its strategic implications. They know that the easiest and quickest way to move soldiers and military equipment is “either by sea or by railroad” and that linking those two systems together is especially useful.
Thus this whole effort is “not an economic project” but “a military railroad” intended to allow the West to bring its forces up to the Russian border as needed. All of Moscow’s arguments against it which lie in the economic sphere will thus continue to be “ignored” by the Balts and the Poles. They, he concludes, “are preparing for a war with Russia.”