Warsaw: Poland plans to build a new canal to bypass a stretch of coastline controlled by Russia, as the country tries to become less dependent on its neighbour amid the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine.
The canal, which will cost an estimated £167 million ($300 million), will link the Vistula Lagoon in the north-east of Poland with the Baltic Sea. All sea traffic from the lagoon and the flourishing port of Elblag has to travel through Russian waters to get to the Baltic. The canal will cut through a strip of land no wider than about 2 kilometres that separates the lagoon from the sea.
The approval of its construction marks an about-turn for Poland's centre-right government led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk. A year ago he rejected plans for the canal, but the war in eastern Ukraine and Russia's apparent willingness to meddle in the affairs of its neighbours appear to have changed the government's mind.
In Ukraine, artillery shells slammed into the outskirts of Donetsk on Sunday as government forces tightened the noose around the rebel-held redoubt and called on pro-Russian separatists to surrender.
Talk of a ceasefire, a possibility raised by a separatist leader on Saturday, evaporated as Kiev government forces kept up an offensive to crush the rebels.
Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said if the rebels wanted a ceasefire this meant "raising white flags and putting down their guns".
There would be no truce while the Ukrainian army continued "punitive" military action, the rebels retorted in a statement.
Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russia of orchestrating the separatist revolt which erupted in April after Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. It says Russia is funnelling tanks and missile systems to the rebels, who have declared independent "people's republics" in the two main industrial regions. Moscow denies involvement.
In Poland, MP and parliamentary infrastructure committee member Stanislaw Lamczyk said: "We need to respond to the geopolitical situation ... The Ukraine crisis has shown clearly that we need to rely more on ourselves and become independent of our largest neighbour."
Poland has a five-year deal with Russia on navigation rights from the lagoon to the sea that expires this year and there are fears Moscow may not extend the agreement.
Warsaw has been one of the Kremlin's harshest critics during the Ukraine crisis and led calls for the European Union to take a hard line with Moscow. Russia has already banned Polish fruit and vegetables in response and, with the Ukraine crisis showing no signs of abating, most Poles expect Russia to target their country with further sanctions.
The plans to construct the canal mark the latest attempt by Poland to shed itself of dependence on its old imperial master. Even before the instability and conflict in Ukraine, Poland had strived to weaken Russian influence, in particular by pushing for a common EU energy policy.
Telegraph, London, Reuters