A road and rail connection to the Kerch Peninsula of Crimea and the Taman Peninsula of Krasnodar Krai in Russia has been a strategic desire of the Russia Government beginning with the successful construction of the Indo-European Telegraph by the British government in 1870. It worked so well that a railroad route from England to India through the Crimea and across Kerch Strait was considered but deemed too expensive. Under Tsar Nicholas II, the Russians came back to the idea, but construction was never started because of World War 1.
Currently, Russia relies on a ferry system between the two peninsulas to transport people and materials. When completed, the Kerch Strait Bridge will have the capacity of 40,000 vehicles and 47 separate trains per day making it one of the most important overwater bridges that the Russia Government has ever built.
The Kerch Strait Bridge progress as of August 29th, 2017
Pictured above is the current progress of the bridges’ construction as of August 29th, 2017 provided by Planet. The gap in-between the two incomplete parts of the causeway is where a giant railway arch has been put in to place this week, officially connecting the two regions. As construction continues, more giant white arches will be placed for the road sections. The bridge is expected to be opened by December 2018 for testing and be fully operational by June 2019.
Earlier this month, Russia announced that it was temporarily closing the international Kerch Strait to all maritime traffic except for Russian naval vessels. The stated reason behind the closer of the strait is due to ongoing construction work of the Kerch Strait Bridge. However, this closure hinders Ukrainian access to the Azov Sea. Russia has yet to reopen the strait to normal traffic.
The Kerch Strait is about a 25-mile-long channel that is no more than 9 miles at its widest. The strait links the Black Sea to the Azov and is strategic because it allows the control of water routes and energy resources coming in and out of the Azov Sea. Thus, it is easy to see why Russia would want to control such an important area in its sphere of influence. Ukraine and Russia nearly went to war in 2003 over the strait when Russia started construction of a bridge to one of the islands in the Azov Sea. Several other times in the past years have nearly brought the two countries to fists over this very small piece of area. Ukraine relies heavily on the resources coming from the Azov Sea, mainly fishing and the exporting of steel from Mariupol to the West.
Russia also has another reason as to why it would want to have a bridge connecting the mainland to Crimea, the home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. A bridge coming directly from the Russian mainland into Crimea would allow Russia to transport massive amount of goods to the naval station in a time of need. Russia is also concerned that Strait could be used by NATO to project power. NATO operating so close to the Russian mainland is not something that would be desirable for Moscow. Russia most certainly would like to keep any direct access to the Don River sealed as tight as possible to any western military. NATO conducted maritime landings near Mariupol during SeaBreeze 2017 increasing the fear among the Russians that the Don River could be used by foreign troops to enter the Russian mainland.
The Kerch Strait Bridge will continue to be an area of contention between the Russian and Ukraine governments for the next many years to come. The bridge also stands as a key paramount and physical symbol to Russian expansion and power projection in the near abroad.