Ukraine ends inland navigation agreement with Belarus

On the 29th of July 2022, Ukraine terminated its bilateral agreement with Belarus on inland navigation. Is this the end of the potentially devastating E40 waterway project?

The idea of the E40 waterway was developed by Polish, Belarusian and Ukrainian governments. It aims to link the Baltic Sea and Black Sea through a 2,000 km-long navigable connection. The waterway would destroy many wildlife areas along its route. Among them is Polesia, the largest wetland wilderness of the continent. 

The inland navigation agreement between Ukraine and Belarus was signed in Minsk in 1998. Without directly mentioning the E40 waterway, it laid the groundwork for its implementation.  

The July 2022 decree of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine ends the agreement “due to a fundamental change in circumstances.” 

A good start – but further steps needed

The Save Polesia partner in Ukraine, the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine (NECU), has been fighting against the E40 waterway for several years. It has done a lot of work informing state bodies and the public about the threats the project poses for Polesia. In recent months natural wetlands of the Pripyat, Irpin and Dnipro rivers have played a vital role in defending Kyiv. In May 2022 NECU appealed to the Ukrainian Ministry of Infrastructure to recognize this, abandon E40 and protect Polesia in its natural state.   

The impacts of the E40 waterway will be disastrous. It would dry up rivers, damage landscapes, kill wildlife, and destroy the livelihoods of local people. While Europe is facing the worst drought in 500 years and the climate change goes on impacts it is very likely that the waterway will not actually be navigable in the future. 

Besides, it would turn an important carbon sink into a carbon source and an economic study suggests that it would become a financial catastrophe for the public purse. 

Now it is the time to save rivers, not to turn them into canals. 

“We hope that the NECU’s appeal contributed to the adoption of this reasonable decision by the Ukrainian government. But this decision does not mean that the idea of E40 waterway has been finally resolved. Now it is necessary to amend related government resolutions to remove all references to the E40 route. The protection status of the estuary section of the Pripyat River in the Chornobyl radiation-ecological biosphere reserve should also be strengthened”,

– Heorhiy Veremiychyk from NECU says. 

The termination of the agreement is a positive step for Polesia’s survival. But further steps should follow. 

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*Top image shows Pripyat, one of Europe’s last free-flowing rivers. Photo credit: Daniel Rosengren / FZS