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Close Friend Of Putin Awarded Contract For Crimea Bridge

In a photo taken in Aug. 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, is shown with businessman and billionaire Arkady Rotenberg, right, mourn during a farewell ceremony for Putin's first judo coach, Anatoly Rakhlin in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Moscow has awarded a $3 billion contract to build a bridge linking Russia with the newly annexed Crimean peninsula to a close friend of President Vladimir Putin.

The bridge that would join Russia and Crimea across the Kerch Strait will be constructed by the SGM Group, majority owned by Arkady Rotenberg, which the BBC describes as "a childhood friend and judo partner of the Russian president." Further, Rotenberg, 63, "was among the first Russian businessmen to be put under Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis," Reuters says.

SGM, which specializes in building pipelines, has no previous experience at building bridges, the news agency notes. The company was assembled in 2008 from several units sold by state-owned gas producer Gazprom, Reuters says.

According to the Kremlin announcement of the deal, the bridge is set for completion no later than Dec. 2018.

The Moscow Times reported in March that it will be Russia's most costly bridge. The project, it said, was estimated in March at a cost of 50 billion rubles, but by June the estimated cost had tripled.

However, the BBC says "it is still unclear where on the Kerch Strait the structure will be erected, meaning the span could be anything from 4km to 15km (2.5 to 9 miles)."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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