16:49 Mar. 19, 2016
Putin visits the construction site of the transport passage across the Kerch Strait on Tuzla island near the Black Sea port of Kerch in Crimea.
President Vladimir Putin, marking the anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea, on Friday exhorted workers building a bridge between the Black Sea peninsula and Russia to fulfil an "historic mission" first conceived by a Russian tsar.
Russia seized the majority Russian-speaking Crimea from Ukraine on March 16, 2014 after an uprising toppled Ukraine's pro-Russian president, but the peninsula has since struggled with economic isolation.
The annexation unleashed a wave of patriotic euphoria in Russia and Crimea, but Putin needs to ensure public attitudes do not sour over the economic costs and avoid handing vindication to Western governments, who condemned the move as an illegal land grab.
Russia was hit with international sanctions over the annexation and Crimea remains largely cut off overland from Ukraine, depending on ships to keep it resupplied from Russia.
As cities around Russia prepared to celebrate the second anniversary of what Moscow calls the reunification of Crimea, which was part of Russia until 1954, Putin visited the construction site where the bridge is taking shape.
He said the bridge, which will span 19 km (12 miles) across the Kerch Strait from Crimea to southern Russia, would integrate the peninsula with Russia and help stimulate the economy.
"Our and your predecessors understood the importance of this bridge," he told workers at an inspection of the site on an island just off Crimea's coast, referring to aborted plans dating back to Tsarist Russia.
"Let us hope that we will fulfil this historic mission. Undoubtedly, it will create additional opportunities for economic growth."
The bridge is being built by a company owned by Arkady Rotenberg, Putin's judo partner, who was among the first in the president's entourage to be slapped with Western sanctions after Crimea's annexation. Full story