The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, opened on Tuesday a 19-kilometre road and rail bridge which connects Russia with Crimea, ending the road isolation of the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.
The Kerch Strait Bridge, the longest in Europe, connects the Crimea with the Russian Krasnodar region. Construction began in February 2016, and the company Stroygazmontazh, owned by Putin’s childhood friend, Arkady Rotenberg, was awarded the construction contract.
Putin opened the road link today, driving a truck across the full length of the bridge in a convoy of vehicles.
“This represents another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignity and territorial integrity,” said the spokesperson for the European Union, adding that the bridge was built without Ukraine’s consent.
The bridge limits the passage of ships to the Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov, the spokesperson said, and added that “the EU continues to condemn the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia and will not recognise this violation of international law.”
Putin, greeted by cheering workers upon arrival in Crimea, said the bridge was “a great achievement which makes Crimea stronger and brings all of us together.”
Crimea’s annexation in 2014 provoked international condemnation and strict economic sanctions from the West. Russia’s position remains that the annexation was a historic reunification.
“I sincerely congratulate you on this historical day. In different times, even under the Tsar, people dreamed of building this bridge. Now, finally, thanks to your work, this miracle has happened,” the Russian President said at the opening.
Once completed, the road and rail link will be able to move 14 million passengers and 13 million tons of cargo per year, said the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. The rail link is expected to be opened for traffic by the end of 2019.