No Money for the Kerch Bridge from Crimea to Russia
By grabbing the Crimean peninsula in March, 2014, Russia expanded its dominance over the Black Sea, having gained a firm foothold on both sides of the Kerch Straits – the eastern coastline of Crimea, on one side and, on the other, Russia’s Krasnodar region and the port cities of Novorossiysk and Sochi.
Novorossiysk is Russia’s largest commercial port on the Black Sea. It stands on the cross-roads of major oil and gas pipelines between the Black and Caspian Seas. Historically, the Kerch Straits have represented the strategic gateway from the Black Sea to Russia’s major waterways, including the Don and the Volga.
During World War II, the Kerch peninsula occupied by Nazi Germany (taken back by the Red Army) was an important point of transit by land and water. In the coldest months of winter, it became an ice bridge connecting Crimea to the Krasnodar region.
The Kerch Straits are about 5 kilometers long and 4.5 km. wide at the narrowest point between the tip of Eastern Crimea and the peninsula of Taman. Kerch is a major commercial port linked to railway, ferry and river routes.
The new bridge – designed to be 19 kilometers long, the longest in the Russian Federation – would largely serve the rail links from Western and Eastern Europe to the Caspian Sea basin, Kazakhstan and China. It is therefore an integral part of the Eurasian Project.
Needless to say, the Kerchen Bridge will be fully under Russian ownership and its control on both sides of the straits.
But how realistic is this project?
Russian Transportation Minister Maxim Sokolov has repeatedly stated that the Kerch Bridge will open for traffic by December 2018. In exactly 3 years, in June 2019, the “channel span”, which is the longest and one of the most difficult elements in the bridge project across the strait, will gather on the Kerch shores.
Judging from official statements, there are no financing problems holding up the causeway’s construction. Russia’s Ministry of Construction asserted on June 8 that sufficient funds are earmarked in the federal 2016 budget for spending, subject to approval by the treasury.
But not everyone believes the rubles are actually there.
Also on June 8, RIA “Novosti” quoted the Press Secretary of the Head of State, Dmitri Peskov as stating that he couldn’t exactly say whether there are problems with the construction of the bridge, and suggested that all questions be addressed to the government, because he “has no information”.
These officials in Moscow were reacting to the suggestion that the project was no more than pie in the sky made recently by Forbes magazine under the heading: “The Bureaucratic Pit. Kerch Bridge is Left without Funding.” The last time the “Stroygazmontazh” general contractor Arkadiy Rotenberg received payment from the state was in December of 2015, and a new portion in the amount of 65.4 billion rubles, although allocated, is “suspended in midair”.
Forbes insisted that the bridge’s construction is undergoing insurmountable difficulties due to “the obvious lack of money.”
So, without any idea when Moscow will release the allocated funds, a special technological platform, which will later become a part of the main structure, is already standing ready to mount the design. The builders are planning to start building the arch itself before the end of June this year. But the road and railway bridge channel spans will be constructed throughout the next year. So says Moscow.