As cities around Russia prepared to celebrate the second anniversary of what Moscow calls the reunification of Crimea, which was part of Russia until 1954, Putin visited the construction site where the bridge is taking shape.
He said the bridge, which will span 19 km (12 miles) across the Kerch Strait from Crimea to southern Russia, would integrate the peninsula with Russia and help stimulate the economy.
Anti-corruption campaigners have also criticized the Russian government’s decision to award the construction contract to Rotenberg’s Stroygazmontazh, a company which specializes in gas pipelines and has never built a bridge.
“The annexation of Crimea was an obvious mistake, which the Kremlin and the majority of Russian people will not recognize for a long time.
The annexation unleashed a wave of patriotic euphoria in Russia and Crimea, but Putin needs to ensure public attitudes do not sour over the economic costs and avoid handing vindication to Western governments, who condemned the move as an illegal land grab.
Russia was hit with international sanctions over the annexation and Crimea remains largely cut off overland from Ukraine, depending on ships to keep it resupplied from Russia.
After two centuries of conflict, the Russian fleet had destroyed the Ottoman navy and the Russian army had inflicted heavy defeats on the Ottoman land forces.Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said the bridge would be completed in December 2018 as scheduled, but critics have said the plans are too ambitious and will run over budget.A number of other large-scale infrastructure projects in Russia, such as preparations for the 2018 World Cup and plans to build a new cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East, have been plagued by delays and had their funding cut to compensate for dwindling budget revenues.Crimea will get 43.5 billion rubles in federal government transfers in 2016 and Moscow will provide an added 148 billion rubles as part of a state development plan for the peninsula, part of which will be used to finance the bridge.The combined total is only a fraction of the 16 trillion rubles originally earmarked for the 2016 Russian state budget.