Vladimir Putin has opened a bridge that will serve as Russia’s first road link to Crimea, a symbolic victory for him that will also reduce the annexed peninsula’s isolation.
This “project of the century” completes what Mr Putin has framed as Russia’s historic reunification with Crimea four years after it was seized from Ukraine in the wake of a pro-Western revolution there.
To christen the bridge, which at almost 12 miles is the longest in Europe, Mr Putin got behind the wheel of an orange Kamaz lorry on live television and cruised across to Crimea.
“I congratulate you on this historic holiday,” the president told labourers at the other end. “It’s historic because in different epochs, back in the times of our father the tsar, people dreamed about building this bridge. Finally thanks to your talent and work, this project, this wonder, has been completed.
At a total cost of £2.7 billion, the bridge is the kind of no-expense-spared patriotic megaproject that has marked Mr. Putin’s rule, along with the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup. The president, whose approval ratings shot above 80 percent with Crimea’s annexation, personally oversaw it.
According to The Telegraph, the state department condemned the opening of the bridge on Tuesday, calling it an “attempt by Russia to solidify its unlawful seizure and its occupation of Crimea” and complaining that it blocked large ships from reaching Ukrainian waters in the Sea of Azov.
Ukraine’s foreign minister said “both ends of the bridge lead nowhere,” accusing Moscow of arresting and disappearing critics in “occupied Crimea”.