Putin’s judo partner takes on bridge to Crimea nobody wants to build

Russian banking and construction magnate Arkady Rotenberg – friend and judo sparring partner of Russian President Vladimir Putin – will build the controversial bridge to annexed Crimea which Putin has decreed must be complete by December 2018.

Arkady Rotenberg, friend and judo partner of Vladimir Putin (Wikimedia Commons)

The pipeline builder Stroygazmontazh Corporation, of which Rotenberg is 100% owner, has been awarded the contract, which at least one other major Russian builder has spurned because of the risk involved.

In September the Russian government decreed that the vehicle-and-train bridge across the Kerch Strait would cost $6.17bn, although inflation in Russia and the falling value of the rouble against the dollar will have since pushed that figure up.

Putin has prioritised the 19-km bridge because the only overland route to Crimea goes through Ukraine, and the existing ferry service is subject to congestion.

In December another of Putin’s friends, Gennady Timchenko, owner of contractor Stroytransgaz, said he wouldn’t touch the project because the costs were unclear and risk is too high.

The appointment of Stroygazmontazh was reported on 14 January by Russian language business daily, Vedomosti, which cited anonymous sources in Russia’s transport ministry.

The company regularly builds pipelines for Russia’s state-owned Gazprom. Until December it was jointly owned by Arkady Rotenberg and his younger brother Boris, also a close confidante of Putin, but on 22 December the company announced that Boris had sold his shares to Arkady.

Stroygazmontazh and the Arkady brothers are subject to US sanctions imposed following the crisis in Ukraine. "They have made billions of dollars in contracts for Gazprom and the Sochi Winter Olympics awarded to them by Putin," the US Treasury states.

The other company tipped for the bridge project was Mostotrest, part owned by Arkady’s son, Igor Rotenberg.

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