Vladimir Putin opens bridge linking Crimea to Russia sparking outrage across the globe
Vladimir Putin has opened a $3.6 billion bridge linking the Russian mainland and Crimea, triggering a fierce reaction from Kiev, as well as many other countries around the world.
The 11.8-mile bridge, which took two years to build, has been a highly controversial project, designed by the Russian President to show that Crimea had joined Russia for good.
But it has sparked outrage in Ukraine, with President Petro Poroshenko - who has claimed that his country is the front line in a new Cold War with Russia - blasting it as "yet another piece of evidence of the Kremlin ignoring international law". He also called it: "an attempt to legitimize the temporary occupation of the Crimean peninsula."
The Crimean peninsula was annexed from Ukraine in early 2014 after a hasty local vote that was slammed by most countries as "illegal".
When he arrived at the opening, Putin declared the day as "historical" and referred to the several unsuccessful attempts to build the bridge in the past.
"I want to sincerely congratulate you with this remarkable, festive and, in the full sense of the word, historical day," he told crowds. "In different historical eras, even under the tsar, people were dreaming of building this bridge. Then they returned to this [idea] in the 1930s, the 40s, the 50s. And finally, thanks to your work and your talent, the miracle has happened."
Touted by Russian media as "the construction of the century", the bridge was first proposed by Russia's last tsar, Nicholas II, but the outbreak of World War I prevented it from going ahead. Other unsuccessful attempts to build it were made in the 1930s under Joseph Stalin, as well as during World War II by the Nazis, who began building it, but eventually abandoned the project.
Putin was broadcast live on state TV at the wheel of an orange Kamaz truck and was one of the first to road test the much-anticipated bridge, leading several dozen trucks behind him across the span. "Let's hit the road!" he proclaimed in the cabin, before driving off.
However, the opening spurred angry condemnation from around the world, including the United States and the European Union.
Heather Nauert, the U.S. Department of the State's spokeswoman, stated: "The bridge represents not only an attempt by Russia to solidify its unlawful seizure and its occupation of Crimea, but also impedes navigation by limiting the size of ships that can transit the Kerch Strait, the only path to reach Ukraine’s territorial waters in the Sea of Azov."
Previously, all traffic passed over Kerch Strait by ferry or by passing through Ukraine. Known as the 'Crimean Bridge', the new bridge is now the longest in Europe, overtaking the Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon.