Putin building colossal bridge that will connect southern Russia to Crimean Peninsula

MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin thumbed his nose at the world when he took Crimea from Ukraine. And it looks like he plans to hold onto it forever, based on the bridge he's having constructed. 

Twenty-four hours a day, in three shifts, workers are racing to build a colossal bridge that's 12 miles long and strong enough to resist the region's ferocious winds, earthquakes and ice. 

There's no doubt the bridge is a technical achievement and an engineering feat, but it's something else, too: a bold political statement. 

It will connect southern Russia to the Crimean Peninsula, which until 2014, belonged to Ukraine. Then, in March of that year, Russian troops seized Crimea. 

After a hasty referendum, Putin announced it was now part of Russia. 

At home, he was hailed as a hero, but outside Russia, he was condemned, and the U.S. and its allies slapped on sanctions. 

Now, this $3 billion megaproject shows he's doubling down on the land grab. 

The bridge, which is due to open next year, will be Crimea's umbilical cord to Mother Russia. 

Trains, cars and trucks crossing the giant span will carry everything from food to tourists. Already, it's a source of pride and a local attraction. 

The official American position is that Russia must give Crimea back to Ukraine if it wants those punishing sanctions lifted. But 12 miles of concrete and steel say that's just not going to happen. 

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."