Canada Condemns Opening of Kerch Bridge

A lone vehicle drives down the Crimean Bridge prior to the opening ceremonies on May 15

Np-Un National Affairs Desk/RFE/RL/VOA.

Canada has joined Ukraine, the United States and the European Union in condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s opening of a bridge connecting annexed Crimea with mainland Russia.

“The bridge, which links Russia to illegally-annexed Crimea, represents yet another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by the Russian Federation. It aims to harden Russia’s unlawful hold on the peninsula and to forcibly isolate it from the rest of Ukraine.” said Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in a May 16 statement.

“Canada reiterates its commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We call on the Russian Federation to cease its violations of this fundamental tenet of the rules-based international order,” she added.

The Official Opposition echoed the Government’s statement.

“Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives condemn the illegal construction and opening of the Kerch Straight Bridge linking Russia to occupied Crimea. This is a gross violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, and a blatant attempt to cement Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula,” said James Bezan, Shadow Minister of National Defence

“Vladimir Putin’s disrespect of international law demonstrates the need for Canada to take greater steps to support Ukraine. We must play an active role in supporting the people of Ukraine, and rebuking aggression from the Kremlin.

“Canada’s Conservatives recognize the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all of Ukraine. Even if it takes fifty years to liberate, we will never recognize Putin’s illegal occupation of any Ukrainian territory, including Crimea,” added Bezan.

On May 15, Putin was shown live on state television at the wheel of a Kamaz truck in a convoy of vehicles that crossed what Russia calls the Crimean Bridge – a symbol of Moscow’s control over the Ukrainian peninsula, reported RFE/RL

After an excited reporter welcomed “our heroes” as the convoy arrived on the Crimean side, Putin hopped out of the cab in jeans and a jacket and praised builders for the “miracle” he said they had created.

“Throughout various historical epochs…people have dreamed of building this bridge,” Putin said, calling it a “historic day.”

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that “the illegal construction of the Kerch bridge is the latest evidence of the Kremlin’s disregard for international law.”

In a statement posted on Twitter, he said it was “particularly cynical” that the opening took place days before the anniversary of the mass deportation of Crimean Tatars from their homeland by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in 1944.

EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini’s spokeswoman said construction of the bridge “constitutes another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by Russia.”

“The construction of the bridge aims at the further forced integration of the illegally annexed peninsula with Russia and its isolation from Ukraine, of which it remains a part,” spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said in a statement.

The U.S. State Department also condemned Russia’s construction of the bridge, saying it was done “without the permission of the government of Ukraine.”

“Russia’s construction of the bridge serves as a reminder of Russia’s ongoing willingness to flout international law,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Nauert added that the bridge “represents not only an attempt by Russia to solidify its unlawful seizure and its occupation of Crimea, but also impedes navigation by limiting the size of ships that can transit the Kerch Strait, the only path to reach Ukraine’s territorial waters in the Sea of Azov.”

The 19-kilometre bridge over the Kerch Strait had been scheduled to open in December 2018, but Russian authorities recently announced it would open for cars and buses on May 16.

Construction on the bridge from Russia’s Krasnodar Krai to Crimea’s eastern end started in 2016, two years after Russia seized control of the peninsula following a military occupation and a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries.

The C$4.75 billion project includes a four-lane highway and a two-lane railroad, which is still under construction.

Putin has pledged to develop infrastructure and improve living standards substantially in his fourth presidential term, which began on May 7 and ends in 2024, but GDP growth has lagged behind targets and Crimea’s economy is struggling.

The televised truck footage was par for the course for Putin, who state TV has shown at the controls of vehicles including a fighter jet, an ultralight aircraft, a minisubmarine, and a faster-moving racing truck in the past.

But senior members of the Mejlis, the self-governing body of Crimean Tatars that Russia outlawed upon its annexation, saw a very different image.

“The bridge is Putin’s image-boosting project for the sake of his electorate in Russia,” Ulmi Umerov, deputy director of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, told Voice Of America’s Russian Service. “Whatever is being said about the bridge being a gateway somewhere, it’s only a gateway to a dead end. Economically, it won’t be justified.”

For Umerov’s fellow deputy, Ahtem Chiygoz, financial prospects are beside the point. No amount of economic benefits could adequately compensate for what has been lost, he told VOA.

“Close brotherly ties with Ukraine ended when Russia started to kill Ukrainian citizens in Crimea, in Eastern Ukraine, including women and children,” he said. “It severed all ties.”

Crimea is connected to the mainland in Ukraine only, so the newly built bridge is the sole link between the peninsula and Russia.

In the EU statement, Kocijancic said that the bridge “limits the passage of vessels via the Kerch Strait to Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea.”

The European Union continues to condemn the illegal annexation of Crimea…by Russia and will not recognize this violation of international law,” she said.