Staunton, September 14 – The construction of a canal between the Black Sea and the Baltic that has been proposed by Ukrainian Prime Minister Aleksey Goncharuk would not only have negative consequences for the Russian economy but threaten Russia’s very existence, according to St. Petersburg political analyst Andrey Okara.
“The idea of linking these seas has existed since the beginning of the 20th century,” he says. “It is quite popular in Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. But in Russia, this idea is viewed with extreme hostility because of the geopolitical and geo-economic interests of the country. More than that, it is viewed as a threat too the existence of Russia” (ura.news/news/1052399296).
According to Okara, the idea has been circulating among “’marginal’ Ukrainian experts,” but now, with the prime minister signaling that the government is pursuing it, it has become a centerpiece of Kyiv’s foreign policy and thus must be watched with care lest it actually be realized.
Goncharuk made his comments today at the annual meeting of the Yalta European Strategy meeting and said that the canal was an entirely appropriate response to Russia’s threat to end the transit of gas across Ukrainian territory (dw.com/ru/премьер-министр-украины-предложил-соединить-балтийское-и-черное-моря/a-50432794).
The canal itself would require the agreement of Belarus as well as Ukraine and Poland and would cost billions of US dollars. Consequently, even if Kyiv actively pursues it, such a canal is unlikely to be built anytime soon if at all, given the leverage Moscow has on Belarusian policy.
But in fact, although neither Goncharuk or Okara mentioned it in their remarks, the canal is more important as a symbolic move toward the formation of a Baltic-Black Sea alliance of states, the so-called Intermarium that many in Europe have seen as an important element in the containment of Russian aggression.
The idea has a long and complicated history. For background, see in particular Marek Jan Chodakiewicz’s Intermarium: The Land between the Black and Baltic Seas (Transaction, 2012) as well as the present author’s “New Polish President Makes Baltic-Black Sea Alliance a Centerpiece of His Foreign Policy” (jamestownfoundation.blogspot.com/2015/08/new-polish-president-makes-balticblack.html.
Okara’s comments suggest that Moscow feels as threatened by this prospect as ever and will work to ensure that no such alliance or even a canal that would help support it will ever be built.