Russian President Vladimir Putin has awarded his former judo instructor the title of “Hero of Labor” for building a controversial bridge from the nation’s southern provinces to the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula.
Arkady Rotenberg, a friend of Putin’s going back decades when they practiced martial arts in their youth, received the award on March 16, the sixth anniversary of a widely denounced referendum that was organized by Russia to annex Crimea.
Rotenberg’s Stroygazmontazh was the general contractor for the $3.7 billion bridge, which stretches 19 kilometers and is the sole link between Crimea and Russia. The bridge was opened to automobile traffic in 2018 and rail traffic last year.
The United States and the European Union have condemned Russia’s construction of the bridge, calling it a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and have imposed sanctions on firms associated with its construction, including Stroygazmontazh.
Rotenberg sold the company late last year for 75 billion rubles ($1 billion) reportedly to companies affiliated with the state-owned gas giant Gazprom.
In 2013, Putin signed an order establishing a "Hero of Labor" award for Russia to "raise the prestige of selfless and conscientious labor."
The award had also existed in Soviet times.