Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled the auto section of a $3.6 billion (223 billion rouble) road-and-rail bridge over the Kersch Strait on Tuesday linking Russia to the Crimean peninsula - much to the consternation of Ukrainian officials who said the bridge showed "disregard for international law."
The bridge will be the longest dual-purpose span bridge in Europe, with the rail section expected to be completed at the end of 2019.
The road stretch of the bridge was due to be completed by the end of 2018, but the opening was moved up at Putin's request. He inspected the bridge in March ahead of the presidential election he won, saying it was important to have the link to the Black Sea peninsula open for the summer tourist season. -CBC
"Putin initiated this project himself. Many didn't believe these plans were possible," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday before the ceremony, adding "This is an extremely important day from this point of view and in a practical sense and in symbolic terms."
Drone footage captures opening day of Kerch Strait Bridge pic.twitter.com/cPSFZkuYKm
Putin drove the Russian-made KAMAZ dump truck in a convoy of vehicles across the 19-kilometre [11.8 mile] bridge over the Kerch Strait. Some Russians are calling it "Putin's bridge," designed to link Crimea into Russia's transport network. -CBC
Putin, dressed in blue jeans, was met by cheering workers on the Crimean side who he told "At last, thanks to your talent, this project, this miracle, has happened."
The Kerch Strait is a notoriously difficult place to build, with undersea mud volcanoes and seismic activity. pic.twitter.com/8X02gWSnpX
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko slammed Putin's actions from Kiev.
"The illegal construction of the Kerch bridge is the latest evidence of the Kremlin's disregard for international law," Poroshenko said, adding "It is particularly cynical that its opening is happening on the eve of the latest anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean-Tatar people by the Stalin regime."
Meanwhile, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says the United States condemns the construction and partial opening of the bridge, which it says was done "without the permission of the government of #Ukraine. Crimea is Ukraine."
The United States condemns #Russia’s construction and partial opening of the Kerch Strait Bridge between Russia and occupied #Crimea, which was done without the permission of the government of #Ukraine. Crimea is Ukraine. https://t.co/YjR4nserzN