RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Author)
Kyiv has launched a criminal investigation after a Russian passenger train arrived in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula using a controversial, Russian-built bridge.
Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin inaugurated the railway bridge to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Kyiv, the United States, and the European Union have condemned Russia's construction of the bridge, calling it a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty, with the Western powers imposing sanctions on firms associated with the building of the 19-kilometer long structure.
Ukraine's Prosecutor-General's Office said in a statement on December 25 that it had "opened a criminal case in relation to the illegal crossing of Ukraine’s state border by a passenger train."
The Russian train, owned by the private Grand Service Express railway company, departed from St. Petersburg on December 23 and arrived in Sevastopol on December 25.
It was the first passenger train to use the bridge connecting mainland Russia to the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula.
Moscow officially opened the bridge to rail traffic on December 23.
The railway section of the bridge marks its expanded use after Russia opened the connection on May 15, 2018, for vehicle usage.
The bridge cost $3.7 billion to build and is Europe’s longest, surpassing the Vasco de Gama bridge in Portugal.
Grand Service Express said that it plans to launch eight new routes to Crimea in May 2020, according to the Russian state-run TASS news agency.
Among the Russian cities being considered for the routes are Murmansk, the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, and the southern mountain resort town of Kislovodsk.
Crimea is connected to the mainland in Ukraine only, so the bridge is the sole link between the peninsula and Russia.
Ukraine has condemned the project, not only for violating the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity but also for its low clearance, which has encumbered maritime shipping traffic for Ukraine.
Sanctions imposed by the EU and the United States have targeted those involved in the bridge.
Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 has not been recognized by the international community.
Russia has also supported separatist fighters battling Kyiv’s forces in eastern Ukraine in a war that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.
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