In a bid to step up pressure on Russia, the US has placed sanctions on firms and organisations working on one of Vladimir Putin’s most prized projects – the 19-km-long bridge across the Kerch Strait that will link Crimea to the Russian mainland.
Yesterday the US Department of the Treasury added seven organisations directly involved in the ambitious bridge’s construction to the sanctions list first introduced after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014.
The contractor has all the resources necessary for the timely completion of the project– Crimea Bridge officials
Those sanctioned include the chief contractor of the 212-billion-ruble ($3.2bn) structure, SGM-Most, a subsidiary of pipeline construction company Stroygazmontazh. Owned by Arkady Rotenberg, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Stroygazmontazh was picked to build the bridge in January 2015.
The US also targeted the bridge’s designer, Institute Giprostroymost of St Petersburg; a firm that carried out environmental studies, STG-Eko; a company building access roads, DSK; and even the federal government institute, Glavgosekspertiza Rossii, which reviewed project documentation for the bridge.
Construction project manager FKU Uprdor ‘Taman’, a Russian federal institute under Russia’s roads authority, and another contractor, PJSC Mostotrest, were also sanctioned.
In a statement the Treasury Department said the sanctions were a response to Russia’s ongoing provocation of instability in eastern Ukraine, and were designed to underscore the US government’s "firm refusal to recognise [Russia’s] attempted annexation of the peninsula".
"Treasury stands with our partners in condemning Russia’s violation of international law, and we will continue to sanction those who threaten Ukraine’s peace, security and sovereignty," said John Smith, acting director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which levies sanctions.
Russian officials said the sanctions would not matter because Russia had all the skills, equipment and supplies needed for the project.
"The sanctions will not affect the construction of the bridge," Crimea Bridge infocentre, the organisation responsible for communications about the project, said in a statement yesterday, Reuters reported. "The contractor has all the resources necessary for the timely completion of the project."
The road and rail bridge, set to be the longest in Russia and in Europe, is viewed as crucial for integrating the Crimean peninsula into Russia since there is no land link. In 2014 Vladimir Putin decreed that the bridge must be complete before the end of 2018. According to reports the bridge is known locally as "Putin’s Bridge".
Construction is underway. A report in June by American broadcaster NPR described the site as "a sprawl of temporary causeways and bridges that bring materials and equipment".
As well as the organisations connected with the bridge, the treasury department also yesterday levied sanctions against those it called "Ukrainian separatists", people who have taken official roles in the self-proclaimed "peoples’ republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, and those with official roles in the so-called Republic of Crimea.
Image: View of Kerch Strait bridge construction in March 2016 (Kremlin.ru)