It’s puzzling that the Kremlin doggedly pursues the Kerch Link as the possibility of a land route between Russia and Crimea opens up. Meanwhile, the first pictures of Putin’s new limousine are published, Madrid and Paris ponder new vehicle restrictions, Spain brings in new driving rules, and Gibraltar considers joining the borderless Schengen Zone…
GIBRALTAR QUEUE WATCH: after a relatively quiet morning, delays at the Spanish frontier reached 1h30 in the early evening. Also, in a shock move, Gibraltar is reportedly to hold a consultation on joining the EU border-free Schengen Area shortly. Chief Minister Fabian Picardo made the announcement in the presence of UK Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander. Reaction has so far been muted but the idea is sure to be – surely – controversial in the true blue British Overseas Territory.
Note: rejigged driving laws start today in Spain, from raised motorway speed limits to harsher penalties for speeding. See more here.
NO DELAY FOR CRIMEA FIXED LINK
Pressing ahead despite land route possibility through south and east Ukraine.
As Eurotunnel celebrates its twentieth anniversary this week another ambitious fixed link is planned between Russia and Crimea.
A bridge and/or tunnel – with or without a rail line – across the short Kerch Strait between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, is not on the same scale as the Channel Tunnel but shifting sands make it a significant technical challenge.
Such a project has been discussed for decades, particularly the last ten years, but really started to gather momentum as former Ukraine president Yanukovych looked set to sign the Association Agreement with the EU last November.
In early March, two weeks before Crimea officially joined Russia, prime minster Dmitry Medvedev announced a new subsidiary of state road builder Avtodor to oversee the project with tenders due in November 2014.
Now, even as the security situation in south east Ukraine deteriorates further – with the government admitting it has lost control of the region and pro-Russian groups threatening to break away – the Kerch Link has developed a sense of urgency.
According to reports this week, the massive China Railway Construction Corporation looks set to build the 4.5km link with contracts signed by President Putin on a visit to China at the end of May.
The cost is pegged at £3.2bn with a build time of five years.
As western diplomats accuse Putin of deliberately fomenting tensions in the east Ukraine regions – which, if they did separate, would allow a land route from Russia to Crimea – the question is, why are the Russians still so intent on building the Kerch Link?
Meanwhile, all freight services have been suspended on the existing ferry service in favour of passenger cars for the summer. A new freight route has been opened between Feodosia and Novorossiysk as queues from Ukraine to Crimea increase to ‘at least’ ten hours for trucks, and five hours for cars.
UPDATE 5 June: the China Summit came and went without any specific mention of the Kerch Link though many other infrastructure project contracts were signed. However, according to the Moscow Times, Avtodor has settled on a combined road and rail bridge as the preferred design – 11.7km long with an additional 25km of connecting highway, and 83km of railway – for a total price of, wait for it, $8.1bn. South Korean and Chinese investors are apparently still interested in financing the construction.
roundup: SPAIN. On the day a new law allows Low Emission Zones for the first time, Madrid announces new plans to limit vehicles: price hikes and new restrictions on parking, more pedestrianisation, bus lanes, resident only streets and day time truck bans, among other things, all due 2014-2020. ‘Madrid is for people, not vehicles,’ says the document seen by El Pais. Meanwhile a digger driver has been arrested on suspicion of DUI after a collision with a team bus near Castuera last night in which five young footballers were killed. FRANCE. In the wake March’s damp squib ‘pollution crisis’, and the election of new mayor Anne Hidalgo, Paris will also present new plans to influence driver behaviour according to thelocal.fr: a year’s free public transport for those switching from diesel to petrol; local authorities encouraged to stop using diesel buses; low emission zones; and free public transport and residential parking whenever particle concentrations rise above a new lower limit of 50 microgrammes (from 80ug). No word yet on any ways to tackle the galloping popularity of unabated log-burning stoves.