Daily US Times, Sevastopol, Crimea: Russian President Vladimir Putin has opened a new railway link to Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula on Monday.
EU immediately condemn the opening, saying it is ‘another violation’ by Russia of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territory.
Putin asserted the new rail link ‘a big deal’ and would have an impact on the Russian economy as a whole. Russia plans to carry 14 million passenger and 13 million tonnes of freight in 2020 by the rail link.
He boarded a three-carriage train, stood in the cab side and sounded the horn. He sat beside Mr Rotenberg as well as Russian and local officials. The train travelled from the Crimean city of Kerch to Taman in southern Russia.
The first train left St Petersburg, in Russia to Sevastopol in Crimea with 500 people on Monday. The distance between the two locations is 2,500 km.
In May last year, Putin opens a 19-kilometre bridge to Crimea by driving a lorry over it. Millions of vehicles already crossed the bridge so far.
Before the bridge, Russia has to depend on sea and air to supply the peninsula.
The bridge cost $3.6 billion dollars, and it was built by a close friend of Putin Arkady Rotenberg. Mr Rotenberg and several of his companies had EU and US sanctions imposed on them.
After Russia annexed Crimea, a Ukrainian territory in March 2014, Putin started heavy infrastructure projects over there. These are the part of that ‘infrastructure revolution’.
What’s the Ukraine and the EU’s reaction?
EU spokesman Peter Stano said ‘not only the rail link a continuation of Russia’s forced integration of illegally annexed Crimea, but it also limited free passage for ships heading to Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea’.
EU has already banned any imports of non-Ukrainian goods from Crimea and banned European companies from investing in the peninsula. It has also banned European cruise ships from docking in Crimea unless its an emergency.
Ukrainian president’s office in Crimea also condemned the new rail link saying Russia showed disregard to Ukraine by opening this rail link.
However, the relation between these two neighboring nations seems improved a bit. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met Mr Putin earlier this month for their first international summit. They both aimed at resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
It is expected that Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists will complete a prisoner exchange by the end of the month as part of efforts to reduce tensions.