Rus­sia’s il­le­gal Crimean Bridge con­struc­tion will cost Ukraine

Kyiv Post - - National - BY VERONIKA MELKOZE ROVA MELKOZEROVA@KYIVPOST.COM

With­out per­mis­sion from Ukraine, Rus­sia on Aug. 29 suc­cess­fully erected the first 6,000 ton rail­road arched sec­tion of the Crimean Bridge un­der con­struc­tion.

When com­pleted by 2019, the 19-kilo­me­ter, $3 bil­lion span will cross the Kerch Straight and con­nect the Rus­sian main­land with the il­le­gally seized penin­sula.

Rus­sian me­dia have re­ported that this is the start of the fi­nal stage of con­struc­tion of a vi­tal piece of in­fra­struc­ture from the Krem­lin’s point of view. The op­tions for get­ting to Crimea from Rus­sia are not good now. Rus­sians can travel there by plane or ferry.

De­spite in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion and sanc­tions, the bridge if and when com­pleted will also bluntly de­live an­other Krem­lin mes­sage to the world: Not only is the penin­sula ours, so are the wa­ters near it.

In or­der to set­tle the first arch of the bridge, Rus­sia’s Trans­port Min­istry closed the Kerch Strait for sev­eral days in Au­gust and will do so again in Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber.

How­ever, the clo­sure ap­pears to be a new stage of Rus­sia’s eco­nomic war against Ukraine.

New stage of war

Rus­sia first closed the strait on Aug. 9, then again on Aug. 28-Aug. 30.

The on­line ves­sels track­ing maps on Aug. 29- 30 showed dozens of cargo ves­sels stand­ing in lines on the both sides of a Kerch Strait, the 15-kilo­me­ter wide wa­ter channel, that con­nects the Black and the Azov seas be­tween Crimea and the Ta­man Penin­sula of Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion.

Rus­sia is go­ing to con­tinue clos­ing the strait to first limit and then com­pletely stop the ex­port from the Ukrainian Azov Sea ports in Mar­i­upol and Berdyansk, An­drii Kly­menko, the head of the Maidan of For­eign Af­fairs, wrote in a col­umn pub­lished on the non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion’s web­site.

“In Au­gust, the Mar­i­upol Trade Port man­aged to trans­fer only 160,000 tons of cargo with the av­er­age re­sult of 350,000-400,000 tons a month due to Rus­sia’s re­stric­tions,” Olek­sandr Oliynyk, the Mar­i­upol Trade Port di­rec­tor wrote on Face­book on Aug.15.

Kly­menko said the strait clo­sure and size of the fu­ture bridge, es­pe­cially its height, will dam­age Ukraine’s econ­omy.

“The 35-me­ter high bridge will al­low en­ter­ing for ves­sels up to 33-me­ters high only. Thus about 30 per­cent of cargo ves­sels, that used to go to Ukrainian ports of Azov re­gion, won’t be able to pass the strait,” wrote the ex­pert.

In Au­gust Ukrainian ex­porters had to find the al­ter­na­tive ways to trans­port their goods and were forced to re­ori­ent their prod­ucts to the trade ports in Kher­son, Myko­laiv and Odesa oblasts.

Ukraine’s In­fra­struc­ture Min­is­ter Volodymyr Omelyan told the Kyiv Post on Aug. 29 that dur­ing the first half of 2017 more than 480 ves­sels en­tered the Ukrainian ports Mar­i­upol and Berdyansk through the Kerch Strait. Only 71 of them were sail­ing un­der the Ukrainian flag.

Rus­sia in ac­tion

Rus­sia started the Crimean Bridge con­struc­tion in April 2015. The Rus­sian Trans­port Min­istry re­ported the bridge will be 19 kilo­me­ters long and cross Tusla Is­land in the mid­dle of the Kerch Strait.

In or­der to speed up the con­struc­tion, work is pro­ceed­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously in eight separate ar­eas.

Rus­sia plans to open four high­way lanes of the bridge by De­cem­ber 2018 and the rail­road part in 2019.

Ukrainian ex­perts said that the Rus­sian bridge prac­ti­cally closes an­other two Ukrainian ports in ad­di­tion to those Krem­lin took af­ter it an­nexed Sev­astopol and Crimea in 2014.

Rus­sia’s Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has been keep­ing an eye on the con­struc­tion and fre­quently vis­its Crimea to mon­i­tor the sit­u­a­tion.

In 2016, Turk­ish bulk car­rier Lira ac­ci­den­tally hit and de­stroyed sev­eral of the newly con­structed bridge pil­lars.

How­ever, in March Putin told jour­nal­ists that con­struc­tion was go­ing well and maybe the bridge will be opened even “sooner than ev­ery­one ex­pected.”

Mar­i­ana Betsa, Ukraine’s For­eign Af­fairs Min­istry spokesper­son, told tne Kyiv Post on Aug. 28 that Ukraine sent a note of protest to Rus­sia in July be­cause of the Krem­lin in­ten­tions to close the strait.

Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions’ Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea, Rus­sia had no right to start the con­struc­tion and close the strait with­out Ukraine’s of­fi­cial per­mis­sion. “Ukraine filed a claim to the In­ter­na­tional Sea Ar­bi­trage against Rus­sia for il­le­gal con­struc­tion of the bridge. The court process will take place in 2018,” she said.

Rus­sia also had no right to place lim­i­ta­tions on ves­sels to en­ter the strait.

Alexey Kravchenko, Sea and River Fleet of Rus­sia spokesper­son, told the Kyiv Post on Aug. 28 that heavy cargo ves­sels won’t be able to pass the Crimean Bridge not be­cause of its height, but be­cause of the shal­low­ness of the Kerch Strait. Only ves­sels with 8 me­ters’ draft can pass and en­ter the Azov Sea.

“So please stop say­ing that nasty Rus­sians close the Azov for you,” Kravchenko said.

How­ever, when asked, how gi­ant, 50 me­ter high cargo ves­sel Pana­maxes, with 9-14 me­ters’ draft, man­aged to en­ter the Mar­i­upol Port, Kravchenko re­sponded that it was a Ukrainian ex­per­i­ment in 2011 and Pana­maxes en­tered the Azov sea half empty.

Shota Khad­jishvili, the for­mer CEO of Risoil agrar­ian hold­ing based in Chornomorsk Port, told the Kyiv Post on Aug. 28 that Ukraine’s part of the Azov Sea is deeper than the Rus­sian one.

That al­lowed Ukraine to ac­cept Pana­max ves­sels, load them half and then fin­ish the load­ing in one of the ports of the Black Sea.

Sur­viv­ing

Af­ter Rus­sia an­nexed Crimea in 2014, Mar­i­upol Port un­der­took the cargo traf­fic from Crimean ports. The in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions for­bade busi­ness with the ports in an­nexed Crimea.

Oliynyk wrote that the Rus­sian re­stric­tions in Kerch Strait were pretty dis­turb­ing not only for Azov ports but for the whole Ukraine’s so­ci­ety and busi­ness.

In Au­gust main busi­ness part­ners of the Mar­i­upol Trade Port – Mar­i­upol’s metal plants were forced to re­ori­ent their prod­uct for ex­port to the south­ern ports (Odesa, Kher­son, Myko­laiv), Oliynyk wrote.

“Due to the height lim­i­ta­tions of the Crimean Bridge Ukraine can lose more than 30 per­cent of large-load cargo ves­sels,” Oliynyk said.

How­ever, not only metal pro­duc­ers but also the agrar­i­ans left Azov re­gion to ex­port from the Black Sea ports.

Volodymyr Osad­chuk, the head of the Ukrainian branch of the Cofco agrar­ian cor­po­ra­tion, that had built a plant near Mar­i­upol Trade Port told the Kyiv Post on Aug.28, that the in­ter­na­tional busi­ness was forced to move its ex­port ca­pac­i­ties out of Mar­i­upol Port.

“In the past to en­ter the Kerch Strait every ves­sel had to pay a spe­cial fee to the Kerch Port, the main au­thor­ity that man­aged the strait. How­ever, since 2014 it was in­cluded in the Crimean sanc­tions list. So it is against the law to pay them,” Osad­chuk said.

Kly­menko said some Ukrainian ships are still il­le­gally pay­ing to Kerch for the right to pass the strait.

“But the for­eign cargo ves­sels, go­ing to Mar­i­upol and Berdyansk ports, now pay to Rus­sians. They do so in or­der not to vi­o­late the in­ter­na­tional and Ukrainian sanc­tions,” the ex­pert ex­plained.

“The ship­ment agents of Ukraine’s ports lo­cated on the coast of Azov Sea al­ways warn their clients to do so.”

Kravchenko con­firmed his words, say­ing the busi­nesses pre­fer to send money for en­ter­ing the strait to Rus­sian firms and state agen­cies, like RosMorPort fed­eral sea fleet agency.

Econ­omy struck

Omelyan said that the bridge will dam­age the qual­ity of the agrar­ian lo­gis­tics of the Azov re­gion.

As all the cargo car­ri­ers would have to meet size ap­prov­able for Crimean Bridge. This will force the ex­porters to re­ori­ent to the Black Sea Ports. As the re­sult, the grain ter­mi­nals in ports would not be loaded in full ca­pac­ity.

“Only the UkrTran­sA­gro grain ter­mi­nal, lo­cated in Mar­i­upol port would lose ap­prox­i­mately $ 1 mil­lion a year be­cause of that,” Omelyan said.

The min­istry counted that only Mar­i­upol Port will lose more than $5 mil­lion un­til the end of 2017.

Ukraine’s Azov ports could also lose 30 per­cent cargo traf­fic with such des­ti­na­tions as the U.S., Mid­dle East, Great Bri­tain.

Omelyan said Ukraine must re­sponse to Rus­sia by in­form­ing the Euro­pean Union, the United States and other coun­tries sup­port­ing sanc­tions.

Ukraine should ask its West­ern part­ners to widen the sanc­tions list and in­clude the com­pa­nies and peo­ple, in­volved in the bridge con­struc­tion, in it.

Rus­sian con­struc­tion com­pany StroyGazMon­tag, which be­longs to the Rus­sian oli­garch Arkadiy Roten­berg has be­come the pro­ject co­or­di­na­tor and the gen­eral con­struc­tor of the Crimean Bridge. In 2014 Roten­berg was in­cluded in the EU sanc­tions list.

Rus­sia er­rected a 6,000-ton arched sec­tion of the Crimean Bridge over the mid­dle of the Kerch Strait on Aug.29, with­out gain­ing per­mis­sion from Ukraine. (most.life)

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