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The Controversial Kaliningrad Corridor

Warsaw, March 5 (RFE/RL) - Will there be a road-and-rail corridor, designed to give Belarus an outlet to the Baltic Sea, that crosses Polish territory? Poland's government insists there are no such plans. And Warsaw maintains that the only talks on the project have taken place in Moscow, Minsk and Kaliningrad.

But in Warsaw, plans for the corridor are common knowledge, and Russia says the project has been under active discussion "over the last two years," including the participation of Polish representatives.

The project most recently made headlines when it was discussed during a visit to Moscow last month by Belarus' President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

After the Moscow announcement, Poland's new Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz declared: "There will not be any corridor through Poland." But, Russian officials say the project is likely to be discussed when Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov visits Warsaw next week (March 14-15). And, officials in Warsaw tell RFE/RL that the corridor project is expected to be discussed when Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski visits Moscow next month.

In Poland, the project is commonly called the "Suwalki corridor," because of the Suwalki region through which it is expected to pass.

Polish media have reported extensively on the project for months, mostly citing sources in Moscow, Minsk and Kaliningrad.

Correspondents in Warsaw say the issue arose about a year ago, when Moscow was involved in a dispute over proposed transit routes with Lithuania.

Warsaw seemed to take little notice of the dispute. But, sensing potential economic gain, authorities in the Suwalki region opened discussions on their own. The Suwalki region has one of Poland's highest unemployment rates.

Polish newspapers have reported that the Foreign Ministry in Warsaw was perhaps the least informed about the proposed corridor. But, the reports say officials in the Transportation Ministry and officials in the Suwalki region have been actively discussing the project for months. One newspaper obtained a government document that includes detailed plans for the corridor, linking Grodno in Belarus to Russia's Kaliningrad region. The plan notes the corridor's proposed path through forests and fields, and across waterways, which are sanctuaries for fish and fowl.

Some Polish media have suggested the only things Poland would "gain" from the project are air, soil and water pollution.

Opponents of the project in Poland cite three reasons they say it should not be built. First, they say there is the question of sovereignty involved in such a corridor. Second, there is the question of Polish-Lithuanian relations. Lithuania had said it was prepared to arrange transport of goods more efficiently and cheaply over existing transit routes to its port at Klaipeda.

Lithuanian media have reported that the corridor has been actively discussed by Poland's cabinet, but that Polish officials are quick to suggest that the only discussions are taking place in Moscow and Minsk. During a two-day visit that opens today in Vilnius, Poland's President Kwasniewski is expected to discuss the corridor with Lithuania's President Algirdas Brazauskas.

And, the third reason reaches back into history. On the eve of the war, Hitler demanded that Warsaw allow goods to be shipped across Poland to Prussia (Konigsberg) along a route that would become know as the Danzig Corridor. The USSR gained the territory after the war, and named it Kaliningrad.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Krylov yesterday told the Interfax News Agency that Russia and Belarus are not thinking of a "corridor." "We only propose," he said, "to contribute to the development of the transport network in Europe."