On June 30, Russia sent two freight trains over its newly constructed Kerch Strait bridge that now connects the Krasnodar region of mainland Russia to the annexed Crimea. These first two trains marked the ceremonial launch and opening of the new route, officially integrating Crimea with Russia’s domestic freight transport infrastructure.
The bridge has been built to accommodate both rail and road traffic in an effort to integrate the peninsula with the rest of the Russian economy in a manner that does not depend on traversing Ukrainian territory or relying on maritime routes.
Russian Minister of Transport, Yevgeny Dietrich claims that the new rail connection, carrying an annual transport capacity of 13 million tons of cargo, will decrease by 50% the transportation costs for raw materials, such as fuel, grain, fertilizers, building materials, and other Russian-made products. In the process, the new transport infrastructure further undermines Ukraine’s sovereign claims to Crimea and elevates Russia’s ability to consolidate power over the region that now hosts Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
The $3.7 billion Kerch bridge project was first opened to vehicle traffic in May 2018 and to passenger rail traffic in December 2019. The project has been saddled by numerous allegations of corruption, safety and quality concerns, and claims that it has been used by Moscow as a dual-use device to undermine illegally Ukrainian trade through the Sea of Azov. Kyiv has condemned the project for violating its sovereignty and encumbering maritime shipping traffic due to the bridge’s low clearance.