The Crimean Bridge (Russian: Крымский мост, romanized: Krymskiy most, IPA: [ˈkrɨmskʲij most]), also called Kerch Strait Bridge or Kerch Bridge, is a pair of parallel bridges, one for a four-lane road and one for a double-track railway, spanning the Kerch Strait between the Taman Peninsula of Krasnodar Krai in Russia and the Kerch Peninsula of Crimea. Built by the Russian Federation after the annexation of Crimea at the start of 2014, the bridge cost ₽227.92 billion (US$3.7 billion) and has a length of 19 km (12 mi), making it the longest bridge in Europe and the longest bridge ever constructed by Russia.

In January 2015 the multibillion-dollar construction contract for the br...Read more

The Crimean Bridge (Russian: Крымский мост, romanized: Krymskiy most, IPA: [ˈkrɨmskʲij most]), also called Kerch Strait Bridge or Kerch Bridge, is a pair of parallel bridges, one for a four-lane road and one for a double-track railway, spanning the Kerch Strait between the Taman Peninsula of Krasnodar Krai in Russia and the Kerch Peninsula of Crimea. Built by the Russian Federation after the annexation of Crimea at the start of 2014, the bridge cost ₽227.92 billion (US$3.7 billion) and has a length of 19 km (12 mi), making it the longest bridge in Europe and the longest bridge ever constructed by Russia.

In January 2015 the multibillion-dollar construction contract for the bridge was awarded to Arkady Rotenberg's Stroygazmontazh. Construction began in February 2016. The road bridge was inaugurated by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 15 May 2018. It opened for cars on 16 May and for trucks on 1 October. The rail bridge was inaugurated on 23 December 2019 and the first scheduled passenger train crossed the bridge two days later. The bridge was opened for freight trains on 30 June 2020. A record amount of traffic, totalling 36,393 cars, was recorded on 15 August 2020.

The bridge was named the Crimean Bridge after an online vote in December 2017, whilst Kerch Bridge and Reunification Bridge were the second and third most popular choices respectively.

During the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the bridge was attacked on multiple occasions. On 8 October 2022 an explosion occurred on the roadway leading from Russia to Crimea, causing parts of the road bridge to collapse and starting a large fire on the rail bridge. On 23 February 2023 the Russian government announced that the road bridge had been fully reopened to traffic, and on 5 May it announced that the rail bridge had been fully reopened. On 17 July 2023 another explosion occurred adjacent to the road bridge, causing a section to collapse, Ukraine claimed both attacks. On 12 August 2023 the bridge was the target of another attack. The bridge was fully reopened on 14 October.

Pre-annexation proposals and attempts Kerch railway bridge

Proposals to build a bridge across the Kerch Strait had been considered since the early 20th century.

During World War II the German Organisation Todt built a ropeway over the strait. Finished in June 1943, it had daily capacity of 1,000 tonnes. Construction of a combined road and railway bridge started in April 1943, but before it was finished, retreating German troops blew up the completed parts of the bridge and destroyed the ropeway.[1][2]

In late 1944–early 1945, the Soviet Union constructed a 4.5-kilometre (2+34 mi) railway bridge across the strait. This bridge, not designed as permanent, was marred by design and construction errors, and was destroyed by flowing ice in February 1945.[3] A proposal to repair it was quickly dismissed and the remnants of the bridge were dismantled, with permanent bridge designs envisaged instead.

Soviet proposals

In 1949 the Soviet government ordered the construction of a 5.969-kilometre (3 mi 1,248 yd) two-tier combined road-rail bridge (two road lanes on the upper tier and two rail tracks on the lower tier) with 40 m clearance below, connecting Yeni-Kale with Chushka Spit, but in 1950 construction was halted and a ferry line was set up instead.[2]

A different version of the fixed link, the Kerch waterworks project («Керченский гидроузел») was developed from the mid-1960s, proposing a system of dams and bridges across the strait. The project was not implemented due to a lack of funding[4] and the later collapse of the Soviet Union.[5][6]

Negotiations between the Ukrainian and Russian governments

Although the idea of an international bridge linking Ukraine and Russia survived the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, the two countries failed to finalise the project.[7] Former Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov was a vocal advocate for a highway bridge across the strait, expressing hope that it would bring the Crimean people closer to Russia, both economically and symbolically.[7] Similar hopes were expressed by pro-Russian authorities in Crimea, who hoped that the bridge would contribute to either a "revival of the Silk Road" or to a multinational road along the Black Sea coast.[4][a]

Construction of the bridge was reconsidered by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine in 2006, and the Transport Minister of Ukraine Mykola Rudkovsky stated that he expected the bridge to be a "net positive for Crimea" as it would allow "every tourist visiting Russian Caucasus to visit Crimea as well".[9][10] The issue was discussed by prime ministers of both countries in 2008,[11] and a Transport Strategy of Russia, adopted in that year, envisaged the construction of the Kerch Strait bridge as a high priority issue for the development of the Southern Federal District's transport infrastructure in the period 2016–2030, with the design ready by 2015.[12]

In 2010, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the Kharkiv Pact, an agreement to build a bridge across the Kerch Strait,[14] and Russia and Ukraine signed a memorandum of understanding on the construction of the bridge on 26 November 2010.[15] A 2011 study by the Ukrainian government announced preliminary preference for a route between Cape Fonar and Cape Maly Kut. Had that project been carried out, it would have meant construction of a 10.92 km (6 mi 1,382 yd) bridge link, with 49 km (30+12 mi) of adjacent roads and 24 km (15 mi) of adjacent railroads.[16]

The shelving of the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement in November 2013 led to increased interest in the construction of a bridge between Crimea and the Taman Peninsula of Russia,[17] and an agreement on the construction of that bridge was signed as a part of the 17 December 2013 Ukrainian–Russian action plan. In late January 2014, the Ukrainian and Russian governments decided that a new joint Ukrainian–Russian company would be commissioned to handle the construction of the bridge, while the Russian state enterprise Russian Highways (commonly known as Avtodor) would become responsible for the bridge in the long term.[17]

It was decided a special working group would determine the location and set the technical parameters.[17] The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine estimated that construction would take five years and cost between US$1.5 and $3 billion.[17] In early February 2014, Avtodor was instructed by the First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia to work on a feasibility study to be published in 2015.[17]

In the following months, as relations between Ukraine and Russia deteriorated, bilateral negotiations over the bridge collapsed,[18] yet Russia claimed that it expected the December 2013 deals to be honoured, and on 3 March prime minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a governmental decree to create a subsidiary of Avtodor to oversee the project.[19] A contest for the engineering survey of the bridge project was announced by that subsidiary on 18 March,[20] but by that time the premise of the contest, which still referred to 2013 agreements,[21] was already outdated. In April 2014, following the Russian annexation of Crimea the Ukrainian government gave Russia six months' notice of its withdrawal from the now-defunct bilateral Kerch Bridge agreement.[22]

After 2014 annexation and start of construction  The logo of the Crimean bridgeAerial views of the Crimean Bridge in 2021.

Following the Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014 amid a sharp deterioration in Ukrainian-Russian relations, Russia declared it would unilaterally build the Kerch Strait bridge to connect the Russian mainland with the annexed Ukrainian peninsula. The project was strategic, an instrumental part of Russian plans to integrate the newly annexed territory into Russia.[23] The project aimed to shift Crimean dependence on Ukraine and reduce Kyiv's leverage,[24] remove Moscow's reliance upon inadequate sea and air links for supplying the peninsula,[25][26] and allow Russia to independently supply Crimea, whose economy has become dependent upon significant subsidies from Moscow. The bridge has a symbolic purpose: it is meant to show Russia's resolve to hold Crimea,[23] and as a "physical" attachment of Crimea to Russian territory.

The announcement that Russia would build a road-rail bridge over the strait was made by the Russian President Vladimir Putin on 19 March 2014,[27][28] just one day after Russia formally claimed Crimea. In January 2015, the contract for construction of the bridge was awarded to the SGM Group, whose owner Arkady Rotenberg (reportedly a close personal friend of Putin) was internationally sanctioned in response to the Russian military's involvement in Ukraine. SGM typically constructed pipelines and had no experience building bridges, according to BBC News.[29]

The construction of the Kerch Bridge took place without Ukraine's consent.[22] The Ukrainian government has actively condemned Russian construction of the bridge[30] as illegal[31] because Ukraine, "as a coastal state with regard to the Crimean Peninsula", did not give its consent to such construction,[32] and called on Russia to demolish "those parts of that structure located within temporarily occupied Ukrainian territory".[33] Sanctions were introduced by the United States and the European Union against companies involved in the construction.[34][35]

Since December 2018 the United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly condemned the construction and opening of the bridge as "facilitating the further militarization of Crimea"[36][37] and "restricting the size of ships that can reach the Ukrainian ports on the Azov coast".[38] Russia, on the other hand, asserted that it "shall not ask for anybody's permission to build transport infrastructure for the sake of the population of Russian regions".[39]

Attacks during the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Ukraine planned and called for the "destruction" of the bridge,[40][41] bringing criticism and talks of guaranteed protection of the bridge from Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin Press Secretary.[42]

During the invasion there were two large explosions, in October 2022 and July 2023, on the bridge. According to the BBC a source in Ukraine's security service said that the 2023 explosion was caused by a Ukrainian attack with unmanned surface vessels (aquatic drones). Russia attributed the attacks to "Ukrainian terrorism". A Ukrainian defence official also said that Ukraine had carried out the October 2022 attack; the BBC was unable to verify the claims independently.[43]

In a speech to the Aspen Security Forum in July 2023, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the bridge a legitimate military target for Ukraine that must be "neutralized" for "feeding the war with ammunition" and "militarizing the Crimean Peninsula."[44]

October 2022 explosion

On 8 October 2022 a major explosion occurred on the bridge, causing portions of the Crimea-bound road segment to collapse and causing several oil tanker wagons on the rail section to catch fire. Vladimir Konstantinov, Chairman of the State Council of Crimea, attributed the explosion to a Ukrainian attack.[45] Limited traffic resumed on the remaining lines shortly afterwards.[46][47] Russian authorities ordered repairs to be complete by July 2023.[48]

On 6 January 2023, TASS reported that the first two spans of the left side of the Crimean Bridge's automobile part leading from the peninsula would be installed that month, with two more to be installed in February, the Federal Road Agency (Rosavtodor) said in a message.[49]

The road bridge was fully opened again to traffic on 23 February 2023 according to an announcement from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin.[50] On 5 May the deputy prime minister also announced that the rail bridge had been fully reopened.[51]

July 2023 explosion

In the early morning of 17 July 2023 two explosions hit the Crimean Bridge. At least one section of the road bridge collapsed entirely,[52] and rail services were stopped. Two people, a couple who were in a car on the bridge, were killed, and their child injured.[53] The bridge was struck twice before 03:00 according to reports on social media;[54][55] Ukrainian and Russian sources indicated that the explosion was caused by a Ukrainian attack with unmanned surface vessels (aquatic drones).[43] The bridge was fully reopened on 14 October.[56]

August 2023 attack

On 12 August, Russia's Defence Ministry said that Ukraine tried to strike the bridge with three S-200 missiles but were unsuccessful due to interception by air defences. Footage released online appeared to show the bridge covered in smoke.[57][58] The bridge was temporarily closed, then both road and rail traffic resumed at a limited level.[58][59]

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