MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin on Monday drove a Mercedes across the Crimean Bridge linking southern Russia to the annexed Crimean peninsula, less than two months since an explosion tore through one of the Kremlin chief’s showcase infrastructure projects.
The 12-mile (19 km) road and rail bridge, which was personally opened by Putin in 2018, was bombed on Oct 8 in an attack Russia said was carried out by Ukraine.
Putin, accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, was shown on state television behind the wheel of a Mercedes, asking questions about where the attack took place.
“We are driving on the right hand side,” Putin said, as he drove across the bridge. “The left side of the bridge, as I understand it, is in working condition, but nevertheless it needs to be completed. It still suffered a little, we need to bring it to an ideal state.”
Putin also walked along parts of the bridge, Europe’s largest, to inspect sections that are still visibly scorched.
Ukraine never claimed responsibility for the bombing of the bridge on the morning of Oct. 8, a day after Putin’s 70th birthday. Russia’s Federal Security Service said the attack was organised by Ukrainian military intelligence.
The explosion wrecked one section of the road bridge, temporarily halting traffic across the Kerch Strait. The blast also destroyed several fuel tankers on a train heading towards the annexed Crimean peninsula from neighbouring southern Russia.
Russia in 2014 annexed Crimea, which was transferred from Soviet Russia to Soviet Ukraine in 1954 by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and recognised by Russia in 1994 after the collapse of the USSR.
Ukraine has vowed to return Crimea, which relies on the bridge for supplies.
Putin’s ally Arkady Rotenberg’s company built the vast structure, which is Europe’s longest bridge. Putin has long lauded the project, boasting at one point that Russian Tsars and Soviet leaders had dreamed of building it but never did.