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Russia Crows Over Crimean Bridge Opening

Engineering feat will simplify life in Russian-controlled peninsula, but will also likely worsen relations with Kyiv.

16 May 2018

Saying “A miracle has come true,” Russian President Vladimir Putin opened a bridge linking Russia with Crimea yesterday.

 

At 19 kilometers, the bridge over the Kerch Strait is Europe’s longest, as well as being a contentious symbol of Russian intervention in Ukraine. Construction began shortly after Russia unilaterally annexed Crimea in 2014, at the outset of the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

 

Kyiv says the bridge is causing environmental damage and blocking passage for larger ships to ports on the Azov Sea, AFP reports.

 

The bridge was scheduled to open for vehicles today, six months ahead of schedule. A parallel railway bridge will be ready late next year.

 

A satellite view of the Kerch strait. Image via NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

 

The bridge should ease bottlenecks for travelers and goods traveling to and from Russia proper, AFP says. It could also exacerbate tensions around Russian and Ukrainian presence on the Azov Sea, which both countries share.

 

Conditions there have deteriorated since late March, when Ukraine seized a Russian fishing vessel it said had violated its territorial waters, analyst Paul Goble of the U.S. Jamestown Foundation think tank wrote earlier this month.

 

Each country is warning “that it will use military force to defend its ships,” Goble says. After Ukrainian complaints Russian naval and Federal Security Service (FSB) vessels were stopping and searching ships passing through the Kerch Strait, Russia eventually acknowledged doing so in response to Ukraine’s seizure of the fishing vessel and arrest of its crew.

 

 

  • A highway from Kerch to the Crimean capital of Simferopol should be completed in 2020.

 

  • Dutch prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into seven Dutch companies that allegedly supplied machines and other services for the bridge construction in violation of European Union sanctions on Russia, The Moscow Times reported 4 May.

 

  • On 4 May, Russian border guards detained a Ukrainian fishing vessel en route to Tarkhankut Cape in western Crimea, UAWire reported.

 

  • The head of Russian news agency RIA Novosti in Ukraine, Kirill Vyshinsky, was arrested in Kyiv yesterday and faces prosecution for treason. Vyshinsky was transferred to Kherson, near Crimea, because Ukrainian authorities accuse him of involvement in Russia’s annexation of the region, RFE/RL reports.

 

  • The Kremlin reacted angrily to the arrest and raid on RIA Novosti’s offices, while OSCE media freedom representative Harlem Desir raised “serious concern” over the raid.

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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