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Putin opens huge Russia-Crimea rail bridge hailed as longest in Europe

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Vladimir Putin rides a train across the new bridge linking Russia and the Crimea
Vladimir Putin rides a train across the new bridge linking Russia and the Crimea   -   Copyright  AP   -   Alexei Nikolsky

Vladimir Putin on Monday inaugurated a huge railway bridge linking mainland Russia to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that he annexed in 2014.

The Russian president stood in the cab of a train for the opening of the 19-kilometre (11.9-mile) bridge, which is the longest in Europe.

The project is intended to bolster links between Russia and Crimea by increasing the transport of cargo and encouraging the flow of tourists.

Putin congratulated construction workers on completing the bridge, saying that "it has proven our ability to carry out large-scale infrastructure projects."

He said that 14 million passengers and about 13 million tons of cargo are expected to move across the bridge next year.

While passenger traffic across the bridge will begin immediately, cargo trains will not begin until next July.

Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 after residents of the peninsula voted in a Russia-led referendum to join up with Russia.

The move prompted widespread international censure, including U.S. and EU sanctions on Russia.

Ukraine has also blocked shipment of supplies via its territory to Crimea, and a ferry crossing from Russian Black Sea ports is often interrupted by gales.

A parallel bridge for cars across the Kerch Strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov opened in May 2018.