Baltic state leaders inked a deal on Tuesday (31 January) to build a high-speed rail link to Berlin and Western Europe that has taken on added significance due to concerns over a resurgent Russia.
The Rail Baltica project, which may eventually also connect the region to Finland and other Nordic countries through a connected undersea rail tunnel, will cost an estimated €5 billion.
“We have to continue to strengthen our defence capability,” Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis told reporters alongside his Estonian and Lithuanian counterparts in Tallinn.
European Council president Donald Tusk was also in attendance as the European Union is expected to co-finance the project that will link Tallinn to Berlin via Warsaw by 2025.
“As a Pole, I understand how important this project is, not only for the Baltic States but for Europe as a whole and therefore you can count on me,” Tusk said.
Project head Baiba Rubesa said the countries will apply for EU funding and hope to receive 85% of the financing from the bloc.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – which broke free from the Soviet Union when it crumbled in 1990-1991 and went on to join both the EU and NATO in 2004 – all have Soviet-era wide gauge railways.
With a total population of just six million people, the Baltic trio are hoping the new railway will create fresh opportunities for the region in terms of trade and logistics.
But critics say the venture may ultimately prove too costly and have also raised environmental concerns.
“As a scientist, I have to say there is a very big risk that this high-speed train track will have a very negative impact and spoil the ecological environment,” Estonian ecologist and politician Mart Jussi told AFP.
He and his colleagues point to the fact that the train track will go through forests, swamps and wetlands that have been untouched till now.