Russian President Vladimir Putin (C-R) drives a truck to officially open the much-anticipated bridge linking Russia and the Crimean peninsula, during the opening ceremony near in Kerch, Crimea, May 15, 2018.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (C-R) drives a truck to officially open the much-anticipated bridge linking Russia and the Crimean peninsula, during the opening ceremony near in Kerch, Crimea, May 15, 2018.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is condemning Russia's construction and partial opening of a new bridge that connects mainland Russia to Moscow-annexed Crimea.

"The bridge represents not only an attempt by Russia to solidify its unlawful seizure and its occupation of Crimea, but also impedes navigation by limiting the size of ships that can transit the Kerch Strait, the only path to reach Ukraine's territorial waters in the Sea of Azov," Pompeo said in a statement Tuesday.

"We call on Russia not to impede this shipping," he added.

Ukraine has also condemned the project as a violation of international law.

Russian state television showed Russian President Vladimir Putin behind the wheel of a construction truck with workers on the nearly 20-kilometer drive across the Kerch Strait Bridge, which aims to integrate Crimea with Russia's transportation network.

A view of the new bridge linking Russia and the Cr
A view of the new bridge linking Russia and the Crimean peninsula prior to its opening ceremony near Kerch, Crimea, May 15, 2018.

"I congratulate you on this historic holiday," Putin told workers on live television after driving across the span.

"It will allow [us] to develop with new pace and new quality the economy of Crimea, [the Crimean port city of] Sevastopol, to raise people's standards of living."

Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman condemned the project, saying it has damaged the environment and that larger ships will not be able to pass through its ports on the Azov Sea.

"The Russian occupying powers, which have temporarily occupied Crimea, are continuing to act outside international law," Volodymyr told the French news agency.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Tuesday the construction of the bridge "certainly limits the ability to bring in goods via ship."

"So it's affected people. It's affected Crimea. It's affected Ukraine in that way," said Nauert during a briefing with reporters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while sp
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking to a group of workers after driving a truck to officially open the much-anticipated bridge linking Russia and the Crimean peninsula the opening ceremony near in Kerch, Crimea, May 15, 2018.

Russia annexed Crimea, a peninsula on the northern coast of the Black Sea in eastern Europe, in 2014, a move that was condemned by Ukraine and the West as an illegal land grab.

The bridge will make the peninsula easier to reach from southern Russia. Long lines of vehicles frequently form as they wait to board ferries, which can't always run during winter storms.

Crimea is a popular destination for Russians during the summer, and Putin said in March he would like to see the bridge open by the time the season arrives.

The United States has sanctioned numerous individuals and entities involved in this project. U.S. officials said these Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine.

VOA's Nike Ching from State Department contributed to this report.