17:22 Apr. 13, 2016
Prospect of Crimean bridge construction continues to fade away
Russia has pushed back the completion date of a showcase multi-billion dollar bridge to link the Russian mainland with annexed Crimea by one year, saying the original plan had to be adjusted to take account of the weight of the trains that will cross it.
The Kremlin sees the bridge, which will span the Kerch Strait, as vital to integrating Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014. President Vladimir Putin has called the project an historic mission.
Extending 19 km (11.8 miles), the project, which will be two separate parallel structures - one for road and another for train traffic - will be the longest bridge Russia has ever built and the longest such dual-purpose span in Europe.
Construction of the road part is on schedule, but Reuters has learned that the rail segment deadline has been put back by a year, giving the contractor - a firm controlled by Putin's former judo partner with no experience of building bridges - more time to complete the 212-billion-rouble (USD 3.2 billion) project.
The delay underscores the huge logistical, financial and political challenges the Kremlin faces trying to breathe life into the economically deprived Black Sea peninsula at a time when it cannot draw on Western expertise due to sanctions imposed on Russia.
A Russian government order from last year said the bridge had to be operational by Dec. 18, 2018 - a deadline Putin has repeatedly emphasized given the importance of the project to the struggling Russian economy and to Crimea, which Moscow can only supply by sea and air because of a Ukrainian land blockade.