There was not a small amount of photo ops and swagger with Russia lording it over the Ukraine in the opening of the Kerch Strait Bridge linking Russia with Crimea for the first time. President Putin kicked off proceedings in driving and heading up a convoy of bright orange trucks across the Straits, before declaring he had managed to do what the Tsars had not in completing the project. That’s some bluster.
However, among all the pomp and ceremony and braggadio, is the Kerch bridge anything more than a symbol of Russian might and a finger at Kiev, or is it actually of any use?
The latter seems to be the answer as within the first 12 hours of its opening, almost 14,000 vehicles crossed the Crimean Bridge on Wednesday during the first 12 hours of its operation, surpassing the earlier record of the Kerch Strait ferry line, the Crimean Bridge information center stated.
“The traffic between two shores hit the absolute daily record of the Kerch Strait ferry line during first 12 hours from the Crimean bridge opening. Over 7,000 vehicles traveled to Crimea and more than 6,700 went to Kuban over the Crimean Bridge by 7 pm. Hence, over 14,000 motor vehicles crossed the bridge in total to both sides. The Kerch Strait ferry line showed the absolute record in its operation in August 2017, when it carried almost 13,000 vehicles in both destinations”, according to the Centre.
The bridge complex provides for both vehicular traffic and rail. With the length of 18.1 km (11.2 miles), it is the longest bridge in both Russia and Europe.
Having been considered at least since 1903, planning for the bridge began in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea. In January 2015, the multibillion-dollar construction of the bridge commenced in May 2015; the road bridge was opened this week on May 16, while the completion of the rail link is scheduled for early 2019.
The main bone of contention between Moscow and Kiev concerning Crimea is that the region has very strong and patriotic Russian roots. It was part of Russia from the Russian Imperial and Soviet Union times since 1783, reverting to Ukraine in 1991 upon the breakup of the Soviet Union. The issue is that the region was often overlooked for development by Kiev as the ruling parties promoted Ukrainian and EU focused policies upon the territory, marginalizing the Russian inhabitants. That eventually lead to the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine as the situation deteriorated with many inhabitants expressing a desire to return to Russian administration rather than Kiev. Similar situations have happened elsewhere of course, the US invasion of Grenada and the separation of Cyprus, being just two.
Russia’s delight at opening the bridge is partially a flipped bird at Kiev – perhaps if the Ukrainian capital had invested in Crimea rather better when it administered the territory, the situation wouldn’t have come to this. The Kerch Straits bridge is actually the longest in Europe, not that Western media will admit to such. Regardless, it’s open, operational, and appears set to revitalize the region in a way Kiev never managed to do. It’s a pointer in a still divided pro-Western versus pro-Russian country that at least one of the opposing parties is able to deliver on promises of investment and infrastructure improvements rather than conflict.
Tellingly, with China having just signed a Free Trade Agreement with the Russian-backed Eurasian Economic Union, there will be opportunities in Crimea for trade with China and the rest of the EAEU bloc. For Ukraine, the situation is rather more stark. The country, although supported by the West, is unlikely to ever become a member of the European Union and opted out of discussions to join the EAEU in 2004. It has also failed to reach an agreement with China over its Belt and Road Initiative, leaving the country out of most of the trade agreements responsible for shaping the new world order. This is indicative of a country mismanaged for some considerable period of time. It is hardly surprising that Russia is stepping in to stop the rot, at least for the Crimea.
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