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West, Russia Face Off in Belarus Over Baltic–Black Sea Waterway Project

Plans for a new Baltic–Black Sea waterway, passing through Ukraine, Belarus and Poland, have the potential to revolutionize the geopolitics of Europe’s East as well as exacerbate East-West tensions (see EDM, February 18). The European Union has labeled the project “E40,” and the United States has signaled its support. And were the E40 waterway to be incorporated within the broader regional framework of the Three Seas Initiative (3SI), the transit project would not only help the economies of all three participating countries and their neighbors but also promote trilateral cooperation on other issues, including security, and make each one of them more attractive partners for the West. This development would thus transform the frequently dismissed “countries in between” Russia and Western Europe—the geopolitical equivalent of “flyover states”—into a unified, collective player in its own right. Not surprisingly, such prospects are gaining support in the US and part of the EU but generating ever more opposition in Moscow. Russia rightfully views E40 as a threat to its influence in the region and even, according to some analysts, as an existential threat to Russia itself. Nonetheless, Moscow faces increasing difficulty in blocking the project by using the means it has employed in the past (, September 14, 2019; Deutsche Welle—Russian service, September 14, 2019).