January 2, 2019

The Baltic-Black Sea waterway

An Economic Driver for the Formation of the Central European Geopolitical Project

 

The possibility of using inland waterways in the Baltic-Black Sea region is increasingly attracting attention, in particular due to the possible construction of a river port in Lower Zhary (Republic of Belarus).

December 17, 2018 the Administration of the Sea Ports of Ukraine (Ukrainian Sea Ports Authority) and the Belarusian company “Beltopenergo” signed a memorandum on the restoration of river navigation between the countries and conducting dredging works on the Dnipro River, to the port in Lower Zary.

It is assumed that it will take ships five days (one way) to get to Odesa. The port's location is strategic because it gives convenient access to key waterways:

  • To Prypyat with its port Mozyr, the port of Pinsk, the Pinsk Shipyard (now close to bankruptcy), the Dnipro-Buh Waterway, and with the development of the international waterway E40 — to Gdansk (the Republic of Poland), with the technical possibility of access to Oder;
  • Down the Dnipro, through Kyiv to Mykolaiv and Odesa (including to the Danube and the Rhine) and on the Dnipro up to Orsha, with the transfer from Orsha to Vitebsk (Western Dvina) and further to Riga and the Baltic Sea. With the potential of constructing the Dnipro-Dvina Canal (Orsha — Vitebsk);
  • The Berezina water system — potentially can connect the Dnipro's tributary Berezina with the Western Dvina (existed from 1797 to the end of the 19th century);
  • The railway line and the bridge across the Dnipro also have a certain advantage for creating a port.

The port in Lower Zary is a catalyst for accelerating the processes around the Baltic-Black Sea waterway, turning promising theoretical projects into real business, expanding a pool of interested partners from Ukraine, Belarus, Turkey, Central European and Scandinavian countries.

The Potential for the Formation of a Powerful Regional Project and Its Geopolitical Importance

As already noted, the international waterway E40 (the most elaborate and realistic project) is not the only option for connecting the Black and Baltic Seas. There is also the Dnipro and the Berezina water system, which can be connected to the Western Dvina. The Polish-Belarusian-Ukrainian route has potentially two alternative Latvian-Belarusian-Ukrainian variants.

In all variants, the Ukraine-Belarusian link is a system that generates for the whole project (whatever it eventually is) and other partners, common economic interests, joint partners and enemies, a common (for Ukraine and Belarus) potential for reducing dependence on other partners (but not on each other) due to diversification of trade flows. This is especially important for Belarus in the context of its difficult relations with Russia (which is also important and beneficial for Ukraine).

The economic potential and objective needs of the project are based on geographic and geopolitical factors. Belarus has no access to the sea and needs to develop trade, and so does the North of Ukraine.

The cost of the first stage of the E40 restoration project is 912.6 thousand Euros, of which 821.2 thousand Euros is the EU's money and 91.3 thousand Euros is the contribution of the partners. The cost of the waterway infrastructure will be measured in billions. The construction of such an infrastructure and its exploitation will give an economic boost on an even larger scale, jobs and a significant expansion of trade in goods — metal, building materials, grain from Ukraine to Belarus and fertilizers, petroleum products, logs, other goods from Belarus to Ukraine, container transportations in both directions.

Threats

  • The construction and operation of the E40 waterway is already causing great concern and protests by environmental activists. The big question is how much such anxiety is grounded and whether it is not caused by external influences. But regardless of the objectivity of environmental claims, they are really able to complicate the project's implementation.
  • Infrastructure problems — the dam in Brest, depths, widths and radii of rotation on rivers, without a complete solution of which, the waterway cannot start working to the full.
  • Political threats that hamper long-term planning:
    • Russia's aggressive integration claims to Belarus and the war between Russia and Ukraine;
    • general weakness and vulnerability of President of Belarus Lukashenko both inside the country and in international relations (and now he alone is personally a guarantor of stability for economic projects in Belarus);
    • weakness of the pro-Belarusian political opposition in Belarus, which is unable to replace Lukashenko without external support, especially in the face of Russia's threats.

Conclusion

Ukraine's becoming a regional leader and a geopolitical player directly depends on constructive support of Belarus both economically and politically. The Baltic-Black Sea waterway — is a real and effective economic driver of regional development and a geopolitical chance for Ukraine and its potential partners.