Russia’s President Vladimir Putin opened Tuesday Europe’s longest bridge, connecting the mainland with the Crimean Peninsula .
Russian state television footage showed Putin, dressed in jeans and a casual jacket, behind the wheel of a construction truck, driving across the 19 kilometres (12 miles) bridge which connects Taman peninsula in southern Russia to Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
“I want to sincerely congratulate you with this remarkable, festive and, in the full sense of the word, historic day,” Putin told workers upon arrival on the Crimean side of the bridge.
“In different historical eras, even under the Tsar (Nicholas II), people were dreaming of building this bridge,” Putin told cheering workers.
Nicholas II was the first to call for the bridge, but the outbreak of World War I prevented it going ahead.
Another unsuccessful attempt was made in the 1930s under Joseph Stalin. During World War II the occupying Nazis also began building a bridge but abandoned the project, according to AFP.
Ukraine, which along with most of the international community has not recognised Russia’s annexation of Crimea, condemned the project.
“The Russian occupying powers, which have temporarily occupied Crimea, are continuing to act outside international law,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman told AFP in an interview.
Ukraine has also previously complained that the construction has damaged the environment and that larger ships will be unable to get through to its ports on the Azov Sea.
The United States said the bridge opening was an attempt to solidify Moscow’s “unlawful seizure” of the Ukrainian territory.
“Russia’s construction of the bridge serves as a reminder of Russia’s ongoing willingness to flout international law,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
The European Union also criticised what it called a fresh assault on Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
European Union and US are targeting sanctions on those involved in the four-lane road bridge, principally Putin’s close ally, businessman Arkady Rotenberg, whose company Stroygazmontazh won the construction contract.
The bridge will carry up to 40,000 cars per day according to Russian state Tv.
Also, a related railway bridge is not yet finished and has a deadline of the end of 2019. A connecting highway from Kerch to the regional capital of Simferopol is set for completion in 2020.