March 3, 2014 / 3:57 PM / in 5 years

Russia says it will build bridge to Crimea

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday that Russia would press ahead with plans to build bridge linking Russia directly with Ukraine’s Crimea region, which Moscow has wrested from Kiev’s control in the past few days.

Under discussion for years, a bridge linking southern Russia’s Krasnodar region with Crimea would give Russia a transport link to the prized Black Sea peninsula that would bypass the rest of Ukraine.

Medvedev told deputies that Russia and Ukraine had signed “documents related to a project for construction of a transport corridor across the Kerch Strait” in December, when the now-ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich was still in power.

Medvedev said he had signed an order putting a state roadbuilding company in charge of the project “in order to shift this work into the practical realm, regardless of the political situation”, according to a government transcript of his meeting.

The political situation has changed dramatically since December, when Russia promised Yanukovich a $15 billion bailout widely seen as a reward for his decision to shelve planned deals with the European Union and improve ties with Moscow.

Ukraine’s about-face triggered opposition protests that led to bloody confrontation with the government and toppled Yanukovich, who fled Kiev more than a week ago to surface in Russia on Friday.

Russian forces have effectively taken control of Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority and hosts a Russian naval base, causing an outcry in the West and among Ukraine’s new, pro-European leaders in Kiev.

Ukraine said Russia was building up armoured vehicles on its side of the Kerch Strait after President Vladimir Putin secured the consent of his loyal parliament to invade Ukraine if he deems it necessary, citing the need to protect the Russians there.

The Kerch Strait links the Black and Azov Seas and separates the eastern end of Crimea from the Russian territory. The body of water, about 4.5 km (3 miles) wide, can now be crossed by ferry.

Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Alison Williams

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