Russian and Chinese state-connected business executives have reportedly begun discussing the possibility of constructing an underwater tunnel across the Crimean Strait amidst fears that Ukrainian forces will continue striking the Kerch Bridge, The Washington Post reported on Nov. 24, citing unnamed sources from Ukraine's intelligence service.
The sources shared the intercepted emails to The Washington Post to allegedly expose the project and the potential Chinese involvement. The emails were corroborated by information that The Washington Post separately acquired.
Neither Chinese officials nor representatives of the Chinese and Russian companies supposedly involved responded to requests for comment, The Washington Post said.
Among the revelations from the leaked emails were communications between executives from Chinese and Russian companies that said meetings on the proposed project have allegedly already occurred.
One such email notes that the state-owned Chinese Railway Construction Corporation, CRCC, was "ready to ensure the construction of railway and road construction projects of any complexity in the Crimean region.”
The nature of the emails reflects the lengths to which China is attempting to maintain secrecy about the proposed project, with several intercepted communications saying that the CRCC's name be hidden from all documents and that it would only participate with a “strict provision of complete confidentiality."
Nonetheless, U.S. officials whom The Washington Post spoke to were surprised that China would potentially be willing to even consider being involved in such a risky project.
Beyond the likelihood of sanctions being leveled at any company participating in the tunnel project, it would also face the threat of strikes from the Ukrainian military. The illegally constructed Kerch Bridge connecting occupied Crimea to Russia has already been struck on more than one occasion.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) took credit for an attack on the bridge on July 17 that damaged sections of the road.
An underwater tunnel would be less susceptible to attack and thus would provide a more durable connection.
The proposal to create an underwater tunnel, if true, illustrates the extent of Russian security concerns about the bridge.
The project would cost at least $5 billion, an engineer told The Washington Post, and several years to complete. More advanced construction methods involving dredging ships would be difficult to use due to security reasons. The project would also require the constant protection of the Russian military.
The length of the project shows that Russia is likely considering that Ukrainian threats to Crimea will likely exist for the foreseeable future. Even if started immediately, the tunnel would be unlikely to contribute to Russia's war effort anytime soon.