The bridge opened by President Putin between Russia and Crimea is more than just a new means of communication between the two. When Putin announced plans to build a 19-kilometre bridge costing more than $4 billion, it was seen as a national project of strategic importance, establishing one of the main pillars of national security for Russia in the region, given that it goes over the Kerch Strait linking the Sea of Azov with the Black Sea. This enables Russia to cut off access to almost half the Ukrainian coastline on the Black Sea.
This may be why Russia has installed a missile defence system and deployed national guards to defend the bridge and nearby areas against any possible attack. Russian sources say Moscow used the building of the bridge to create the ideal foundation for a gas pipeline and power supplies from Russia to Crimea, as a payback for the power cuts from the networks that connected Crimea to Ukraine.
Western organisations involved in the construction
The Russian President said in his speech at the opening ceremony that for the next few months the road will be open for trucks. The railway alongside the bridge will open within the next year to support the movement of goods and to help stabilise the economy and tourism in Crimea. The Russian newspaper Izvestia revealed the participation of many Western companies in the project, including Maurer, Stetter AG, German HeidelbergCement, Italian BV Granigliatrici, American ExxonMobil, 3M, and many others from Japan, Finland, Holland and even Ukraine, despite the sanctions imposed on Russia at the start of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014.
Western critics used the opening of the bridge to once again question the legality of the annexation of Crimea, criticise some design aspects of the project and its economic objectives, and question the potential risks from storms and high winds. The Washington Post suggested that Putin used old friends who have become billionaires in Russia to help get around Western sanctions - Arkady Rotenberg, for instance, known as the ‘emperor of road building’, a colleague since they did judo together as younger men. The newspaper added on its correspondent’s behalf, Anton Trojanowski, “this allows older friends, such as Rotenberg, to benefit from similar projects to increase his wealth on the one hand and serve his country on the other”.
A spokesperson for the State Department in Washington, Heather Nauert, said the bridge was not just an attempt to enhance Russia’s positions and take Crimea over, it would also cause navigation. The European Union had previously indicated that building the bridge was a step to forcefully annex the Crimean Peninsula to Russian lands, undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty, and limiting the ability of ships to reach Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov, between Ukraine and Russia, east of the Black Sea.