“I am sure that this bridge will serve many people – those who live in Vladivostok, on Russky Island, those who will come to visit, tourists from our country, as well as from other places,” a defiant Medvedev said at the launch ceremony.
Medvedev, accompanied by other government officials, drove across the bridge in a van but the public will not be able to use it before August. Until then the bridge will be open only to trucks heading to construction sites on the island.
Medvedev and President Vladimir Putin, who will host the Asian summit, have stressed that development of the Far East, an area which occupies one third of Russia’s territory but is home to only four percent of the population, is a priority.
Russia wants to diversify its commodity trade away from stagnating Europe to booming Asia. The energy exporter has built an oil terminal and a pipeline in the Far East and is negotiating a long-term gas supply contract with energy-hungry China.
Russia also wants to make money on transit trade flows between Asia and Europe, which currently bypass it due to poor infrastructure, corruption and bureaucracy, and is pinning hopes on the summit for an economic turnaround in the Far East.
Earlier in the day, Medvedev arrived in Kunashir, just north of Japan's Hokkaido island, for his second trip to the disputed Kuril Islands, which the Soviet Union annexed after World War II. Japan claims Kunashir, Shikotan, the Habomai Islets and Iturup as its territory.
Tokyo's continued claim over the four southern Kuril Islands - known as the Northern Territories in Japan - has so far prevented Russia and Japan from signing a formal peace treaty to end World War II.
In 2010, Medvedev sparked a diplomatic row with Tokyo by making the first ever visit by a Russian leader to the islands. He later said Russia would increase its military presence there. Japan's then prime minister Naoto Kan called Medvedev's visit "inexcusable rudeness."