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Putin Inaugurated Bridge That Links Russian Mainland to Crimea

Relations between Russia and Ukraine remain extremely fraught as a simmering conflict continues between Kiev and Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine's southeast.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has inaugurated a highly-controversial bridge linking the Russian mainland to Crimea, tightening Russias hold over the contested peninsula which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Position of Crimea. Pixabay

Russian President Vladimir Putin has inaugurated a highly-controversial bridge linking the Russian mainland to Crimea, tightening Russias hold over the contested peninsula which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

The 19-km, $3.7 billion bridge is Moscow’s only direct road link to Crimea. Russia expects it will carry millions of cars and rail travellers and millions of tonnes of cargo each year. Previously, all car traffic passed over the Kerch strait by ferry or by passing through Ukraine, the Guardian reported.

On Tuesday, Putin drove an orange Kamaz truck across the bridge as he opened the road to car traffic. “In different historical epochs, even under the tsar priests, people dreamed of building this bridge,” Putin told workers at the ceremony.

“Then they returned to this (idea) in the 1930s, the 40s, the 50s. And finally, thanks to your work and your talent, the miracle has happened.”

The Russian state media touted the bridge as the “construction of the century”. The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had considered and then scrapped plans to build a bridge over the Kerch strait.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine remain extremely fraught as a simmering conflict continues between Kiev and Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine’s southeast.

In 2016, the US imposed sanctions on Russian companies that were helping to build the bridge across the Kerch strait. Ukraine said the construction of the bridge showed “blatant disregard for international law”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has inaugurated a highly-controversial bridge linking the Russian mainland to Crimea, tightening Russias hold over the contested peninsula which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Vladimir Putin opened the bridge from Russia to Crimea. wikimedia commons

The US State Department said that “the bridge impeded ship navigation and goods delivery in the area and therefore it was watching the situation closely”.

The Russian embassy, however, said that “the US remarks were predictable and Moscow was not asking anyone’s authorization for building infrastructure projects on its territory.

“As one could predict, Washington is not happy with that. But Crimea is Russia,” the Russian embassy said in a statement.

“We shall not ask for anybody’s permission to build transport infrastructure for the sake of the population of Russian regions.”

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The bridge’s construction was led by Stroygazmontazh, whose owner, Arkady Rotenberg, has close connections to the Kremlin. Rotenberg was Putin’s judo sparring partner.

He was hit with sanctions by the US for his proximity to Putin and by the EU for being among those accused of undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

The bridge was completed six months ahead of schedule, according to Russian state news agencies. It can reportedly carry up to 40,000 cars per day, its span is greater than that of the Vasco da Gama bridge in Portugal, previously the longest in Europe. (IANS)

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China Takes Panda Diplomacy to Moscow

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is on a three-day state visit to Russia

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China, Panda, diplomacy, Moscow
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a ceremony at which Xi was presented with an honorary degree from St. Petersburg State University in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 6, 2019. VOA

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is on a three-day state visit to Russia aimed at underscoring Russian-Sino cooperation — and his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin — in the face of strained relations with the United States.

“In the past six years, we have met nearly 30 times,” said Xi of the Russian leader.

“Russia is the country that I have visited the most times, and President Putin is my best friend and colleague,” added Xi.

While ostensibly timed to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties, the state visit comes as both leaders bristle over their treatment by the U.S., which has levied sanctions against Russia since 2014 and currently is engaged in a trade war with China.

China, Panda, diplomacy, Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the ceremony at which Chinese President Xi Jinping was presented with an honorary degree from St. Petersburg State University at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 6, 2019. VOA

“People generally tend to go to the places where they are liked,” said Mikhail Korostikov, Asia-Pacific observer for the Kommersant daily newspaper, in explaining the personal chemistry between Putin and Xi. “But the conflict with the U.S. that both countries are facing made them closer.”

Military ties

Indeed, beyond their grudges with Washington, a shared worldview on global security has helped both sides overcome distrust that once plagued the Soviet-China relationship, which fractured over differing interpretations of communist ideology and border disputes.

Case in point: inclusion of 3,200 Chinese troops alongside 300,000 Russians in the Kremlin’s massive Vostok-2018 military training exercise in Russia’s Far East last year, according to official sources.

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From their perch at the U.N. Security Council, Russia and China now regularly form a global counterweight to the U.S. on thorny issues such as Syria, North Korea and Iran — a point noted by Putin in a statement after meeting with Xi on Wednesday.

“In discussing important international and regional problems, I can say that in most of them, the views of Russia and China are aligned or very close,” said the Russian leader.

So, too, increasingly, are their economies.

Russian ‘pivot’

China, Panda, diplomacy, Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, attend a welcoming ceremony for two Chinese giant pandas, male Ru Yi and female Ding Ding, at the Moscow Zoo on June 5, 2019. VOA

In the wake of Western sanctions levied over the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin announced Russia would “pivot” its economy toward Asia.

Russian officials now tout trade deals with China worth more than $100 billion annually — making China Russia’s top trading partner — as proof Russia has weathered the storm. Russia is only 10th on China’s list, with the United States first.

Xi also will appear alongside Putin at the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday. While the Chinese delegation to the event is 1,000 strong, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Huntsman Jr., is boycotting the event over the detention of an American businessman in Moscow.

Yet, in all likelihood, the lasting image of the state visit will prove to be Ru Yi and Ding Ding, two giant pandas from China’s Sichuan province that Xi gifted on loan to the Moscow Zoo for the next 15 years.

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With the gesture, Xi tapped into China’s famed panda diplomacy — the use of furry diplomatic gifts to help repair relationships or forge ties anew.

It certainly seemed to have the desired effect on the Russian leader.

“When we talk of pandas,” noted Putin, “we always end up with a smile on our faces.” (VOA)