The first Russian train from St. Petersburg arrived on Wednesday at Simferopol station, the capital of Crimea, after a journey that lasted 43.5 hours. A new snub to Ukraine and the European Union from Vladimir Putin, who willingly staged the opening of this symbolic link.
"This is a pleasant and very important event for the Crimea […], for the south of Russia and for our whole country", the Russian leader welcomed on Monday during the inauguration ceremony of the track railway connecting the peninsula to mainland Russia.
Russia annexed the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula in March 2014 after a tie-up referendum denounced by Kiev and the West. This annexation was followed by an armed conflict between the Ukrainian forces and the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, still ongoing, which left more than 13,000 people dead.
"Forced integration of the peninsula"
It is "a new violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine by Russia," the spokesman for the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell said in a statement.
"The rail link is another step towards a forced integration of the peninsula illegally annexed to Russia and towards the isolation of the Crimea from Ukraine, of which it remains a part," he continued. “In addition, the bridge limits the passage of ships through the Kerch Strait to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov. The European Union expects Russia to ensure a free and unhindered passage through the Kerch Strait, in accordance with international law, "he added.
[Embed] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcgHJ9iAMd0 [/ embed]
The railway is located on the bridge connecting the Kerch peninsula in Crimea to that of Taman in southern Russia. Vladimir Putin very symbolically made the first crossing, 19 km long, in the cab of a locomotive next to the driver.
The road section of the bridge was inaugurated in May 2018. Vladimir Poutine then crossed at the wheel of an orange truck, at the head of a column of ten vehicles. The construction of this work had been launched in February 2016 and entrusted to the billionaire Arkadi Rotenberg, judo partner of Vladimir Poutine.
The trains that will now connect Moscow and Saint Petersburg to Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, are expected to carry 14 million passengers in 2020.