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Photograph: EPA/ALEXEY NIKOLSKY /RIA NOVOSTI / KREMLIN POOL MANDATORY CREDIT

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Crimea on Friday, the second anniversary of Russia's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine.

Putin inspected the construction site of a bridge to connect Crimea with mainland Russia, the Kremlin said in a statement. The bridge is planned to span 19 kilometres and be the longest in Russia.

"Our predecessors understood the significance of a bridge between Crimea and the Caucasus and long strived to implement such a project. Let us hope that we can fulfill this historical mission," Putin said in comments carried by state news agency TASS.

The construction is forecast to be completed by 2019 and costs 228.3 billion roubles (3.4 billion dollars), the Interfax news agency reported.

Putin also held a meeting with senior officials on the socio-economic development of Crimea, currently one of Russia's poorest regions.

Crimea's governor, Sergei Aksyonov, told Putin that state funding of the region's agriculture industry this year is excpected to amount to 3.5 billion roubles, about 30 times more than the region received while it was part of Ukraine, TASS reported.

Russia occupied and annexed Crimea - the location of a major Russian naval base - in response to Ukraine ousting its pro-Russian president, amid mass protests calling for closer ties with the West.

Russia initially suggested that the occupying forces in Crimea were locals opposing the change of government in Kiev, but months later Putin admitted that the forces comprised Russian servicemen.

Shortly after Russia's annexation of Crimea, a pro-Russian separatist rebellion erupted in Ukraine's two eastern-most regions.

More than 9,000 people have died in that conflict, between separatists and the Ukrainian military, according to estimates by the United Nations.

Kiev and many Western powers accuse Moscow of fueling the conflict with supplies of weapons and troops for the separatists. Moscow has adamantly denied such claims.

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