Russia pushes back 'Putin'south bridge' to annexed Crimea by a year

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 4:32 PM

The Kremlin sees the bridge, which will span the Kerch Strait, as vital to integrating Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in two thousand-fourteenth. President Vladimir Putin has called the project an historic mission.

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 map had to be adjusted to get account of the wt of the trains that'll cross it.

The Kremlin sees the bridge, which will span the Kerch Strait, as vital to integrating Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in two thousand-fourteenth. President Vladimir Putin has called the project an historic mission.

Extending nineteen kilometer (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 portion is on schedule, but Reuters has learned that the rail section deadline has been keep back by a year, giving the contractor - a firm controlled by Putin'south former judo partner with number experience of building bridges - more time to complete the 212-billion-rouble ($3.2 billion) project.

The delay underscores the enormous 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 latest year said the bridge had to be operational by Dec. eighteen, two thousand eighteen - 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.

But Rosavtodor, Russia'south federal road agency, said in reply to questions from Reuters that the deadline had presently been changed and that the rail segment wouldn't be operational until the finish of two thousand nineteen, a year later than initially planned.

"In the process of government experts reviewing the project to construct a bridge across the Kerch Strait the deadlines were worked out in detail," a spokesman for the agency said in a statement, calling the original deadline "preliminary".

Building the railway bridge was more time-consuming and technically complex than the road one, he said, because it'd have to bear more wt and would necessity signaling and special communications equipment.

He didn't clarify why those factors weren't taken into account in the original plan.

"Because of this the bridge builders will necessity a tiny more time to do the rail portion of the bridge and map to start train traffic before the finish of two thousand nineteen," the spokesman said.

The rail element was independent of the road component, he said. That portion is on track to open on time at the finish of 2018.

Minutes of a meeting Putin held with ministers latest mo during a visit to the construction site for the bridge - dubbed "Putin'south bridge" by some Russians - indicate the president was informed about the delay at the time and was initially miserable with what he heard.

The mention of a delay at the meeting close Tuzla Spit - a wind-lashed body of sand that juts into the Kerch Strait towards Crimea - went unnoticed by the media at the time.

The minutes, available on the Kremlin'south website, indicate Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov gave Putin a different explanation to the one supplied by Rosavtodor to Reuters, telling him the railway portion was being built later because there was only light rail traffic in Crimea in winter, an excuse that appeared to irritate Putin.

"Railway traffic is light for as long as there is number railway (bridge)," Putin shot back. "If there will be one (a railway bridge) then ports will start to work differently and then there will be traffic."

PUTIN'south JUDO PARTNER

The contract to construct the bridge was latest year handed to a firm controlled by Arkady Rotenberg, a near ally of Putin'south and his former judo partner. He owns fifty-one % of Stroygazmontazh (SGM), the lead contractor.

Rotenberg is below Western sanctions because of Crimea'south annexation and Russia'south support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. He cannot lift capital in the W or hire Western sub-contractors to assistance his firm complete the project.

SGM'south primary expertise is in building gas pipelines and related infrastructure. It'south not built a bridge before and has been forced to hire Russian sub-contractors who have.

A spokeswoman for SGM-Most, the SGM unit handling the project, referred questions about the deadline to Rosavtodor.

Ivan Bedelev, the head of the local administration in Taman, the nearest town to the bridge on the Russian mainland side, said he thought the builders hadn't realized what they were taking on.

"The original map was to deliver the road and rail elements all together," Bedelev told Reuters. "But I guess they sized it up and assessed their own strength and decided to modify the plan."

The bridge will require major road improvements on both sides of the Kerch Strait. There too problems have arisen.

Construction of a planned four-lane 300-km (186-mile) hwy meant to link the Crimean finish of the bridge with the contested peninsula'south capital hasn't yet begun after a dispute between the project'south designers and the Crimean authorities. The details are unclear.

Putin, who's a penchant for publicly dressing down ministers, complained at the meeting latest mo about what he said was the failure of any ministry or individual to get responsibility for overseeing the stalled project to construct a hwy to the bridge, saying the current setup was "a road to nowhere."

The president, known for his flashes of shadowy humor, said: "There should be a specific person who can be hanged if it's not done."

(Extra reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Editing by Pravin Char)

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