In order to acquire the land, one must switch the border to make the distribution of territory among colonial settlers possible. The Crimean Bridge throught the history of the project has always been connected to Russian attempts, both successful and not, to shift the border with Ukraine.
The first railroad bridge connecting the Crimean Peninsula to the Soviet Union mainland was built in 1944, the control over which was taken from Nazi troops. While the bridge’s seizure was presented as the “liberation of Crimea” from Nazi occupation, the construction of the railroad by the Soviet Empire was needed to establish its new colonial rule. This railroad served the function as the classic “colonialists’ first ally” to secure “the permanent way” (Scotto 2018, 70).
In 1945, the first Crimean Bridge was destroyed by an ice flow. In 2003, following the established settler-colonial pattern, the foundation for the new bridge was laid while the border was shifted and ethnic repression continued. Officially named the Dam, the new bridge would connect Russia with the Ukrainian island of Tuzla to claim it as Russian territory (Woronowycz 2003). Tuzla Island is situated in the centre of the Kerch Strait and is literally the middle ground between Russia and Crimea. The inconvenient fact that Tuzla Island was Ukrainian was easily solved through the colonial imagination: the Russian state proclaimed that the island was previously an extension of the Russian shoreline that had broken off. In their logic, the severance urgently demanded reconnection to the Russian mainland. Their attempt at restoration did not succeed and the Ukrainian State managed to keep control over Tuzla. Despite maintaining the border itself, Ukraine sacrificed their territorial waters, ceding free access to the Kerch Strait to Russia. Even though the Russian state did not achieve its original aims, it managed to use the Dam as the literal foundations for its future bridge project. The establishment of this concrete base was coupled with a juridical one aimed at the repression of Crimean Tatars. In 2003, the Russian Secret Service criminalised several Muslim organisations, including Hizb ut-Tahrir (Ponomarev 2005). This law was the first step in the process of criminalization of Crimean Tatars as an ethnicity.
In 2014, Russian proxy militaries annexed Crimea and started an ongoing war in the east of Ukraine, pushing the border deeper in Ukrainian territory. In the same year, an urgent plan was implemented to construct the Crimean Bridge complex – or, in reality, to finish their earlier project by utilising the existing foundation. Concurrently, the law against Muslim organisations started to gain momentum and was ideally suited to the colonization of annexed Crimea. The newly-appointed head of the Crimean secret service had a history of ethnic discrimination against Crimean Tatars and was willing to use the ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir to create a new wave of repression against other groups of indigenous Crimeans. The majority of Crimean Tatars arrested under the Russian occupation were prosecuted as members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, making the 2003 Law the most efficient tool for repression in the area. Once again, the events of 2014 followed the settler-colonial pattern: bridge construction alongside border shifts and the suppression of indigenous people.
By 2018, half of the Crimean Bridge complex was finished, and the bridge opened to public use and car traffic. Thus, the bridge became a new frontier, formed out of the uncertainty surrounding the lack of jurisdictional delimitation created by earlier events. This frontier embodies the strategy of border-shifting integral to the established settler-colonial pattern. The border of the new Crimean Bridge was followed by a new wave of repression against Crimean Tatars that gained momentum in parallel with the bridge construction. In 2018, repression reached a new level of absurdity with the publication of a pro-Kremlin human rights report (Lubina 2019). This document uses the bridge as its cover image, explicitly outlining the colonial pattern and portraying the Crimean Tatars as the main enemy of the Russian state. The second part of the Crimean Bridge complex, the railroad bridge, remains under construction and is due to open on December 2019. However, the year has already been marked by the unlawful detention of an unprecedented number of Crimean Tatars (35 people in 6 months) and the increased frequency and duration of delays to ships on the newly-created border.