"Let's hit the road!" So proclaimed Vladimir Putin before he drove a large construction truck Tuesday to road test the much-anticipated and controversial bridge linking southern Russia and the Crimean peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The 11.8-mile bridge, which took two years to build and cost $3.6 billion, is Putin's project to show that Crimea has joined Russia for good, reports the AP. Transportation links to Crimea deteriorated after both the Ukrainian and Russian militaries set up checkpoints into the peninsula and trains crossing the Ukrainian mainland were canceled. The Washington Post reports that Russians could previously only reach Crimea via plane or ferry. As of Wednesday, the bridge will be able to handle up to 40,000 cars daily, though the New York Times notes the major highways that flow into the bridge on both sides are still being constructed.
- Tuesday's test drive took a little under 20 minutes and was covered live by Russian state television. Reporters and cameras were stationed at several spots along the route. One reporter hailed the bridge as an example of "heroism of the workers."
- The only hailing done by Ukraine and the West was hailing the bridge as illegal. The AP reports Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko lambasted the bridge as "yet another piece of evidence of the Kremlin ignoring international law" and "an attempt to legitimize the temporary occupation of the Crimean peninsula."
- NPR has the State Department's condemnation: "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 Russian Embassy in the US had this to say on Facebook in response to the State Department: "As one could predict, Washington is not happy with [Tuesday's event]. But Crimea is Russia. We shall not ask for anybody's permission to build transport infrastructure for the sake of the population of Russian regions."
- At the Post, Anton Troianovski reports the man who brought the bridge to life is Arkady Rotenberg, Putin's former judo partner and a man sanctioned by the US. His involvement "underscore[s] the Putin-centric system of political and economic patronage in Russia. Rotenberg's role as the builder of the bridge showed how Russia's billionaires have been able to leverage their closeness to Putin to further enrich themselves—while also rendering services to the state."
- Newsweek quips that Putin was apparently not the first to cross the bridge: He was beat by a cat.
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