MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin triumphantly stood Monday at the front of the first train car to cross the controversial Crimean Bridge, a symbolic trip across the Kerch Strait more than five years after Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Russia’s seizure of the Black Sea peninsula in 2014 is not recognized by the United States, the European Union or much of the international community. But the new rail route further cements Russia’s hold over the territory, linking it to St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Putin boarded the train in the Crimean city of Kerch and disembarked in Taman, in Russia’s Krasnodar region, riding in the company of the engineers who worked on the bridge, the longest in Russia and Europe at 19 kilometers (nearly 12 miles). While on the train, Putin commented that it was a smoother ride than in an automobile.

On Dec. 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin inaugurated a new bridge to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. (The Washington Post)

“Such infrastructure facilities as this tremendous bridge will influence the entire economy,” Putin told a crowd of construction workers.

“You have shown that we can carry out such large-scale projects using our own technological base,” he said during the ceremony, which was broadcast live on state-run television. “Without exaggeration, this gives almost everyone confidence that we will be able to implement such projects in the future.”

Putin took part in a similar ceremony on the bridge last year, when a segment of it was opened for vehicles to cross. He got behind the wheel of an orange truck and drove it the full length of the bridge.

Putin said Monday that the new rail route will carry about 14 million passengers and 13 million tons of cargo next year. Russia can better economically integrate the peninsula now that it is no longer isolated from the mainland.

Construction of the bridge cost $3.7 billion and prompted Western sanctions on the firms associated with it. They included contractor companies owned by oligarch Arkady Rotenberg, a longtime Putin friend who is already the subject of U.S. sanctions. He stood beside Putin in the train Monday.

The first passenger train left St. Petersburg at 2 p.m. Monday, and through a video link, Putin wished it a “safe journey.” It is expected to complete the 1,703-mile journey to Sevastopol, the largest city on the Crimean Peninsula and a Black Sea port, on Wednesday at 9:25 a.m. A train ticket from St. Petersburg to Sevastopol costs 3,500 rubles, or about $56.

A train from Moscow to Sim­feropol, Crimea’s capital, is scheduled to depart Tuesday and cover 1,248 miles in 33 hours.

Ukraine maintains that it wants the peninsula back, a nonstarter for Moscow. The prospects look even bleaker after the subject of Crimea did not even come up in the first face-to-face meeting between Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in Paris two weeks ago, at a summit aimed at resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been battling government forces since 2014.

But there seemed to be some thaw in relations over the weekend, with Russia and Ukraine agreeing to a new five-year deal on the transit of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine. The deal calls for Kyiv to receive a $2.9 billion settlement to resolve a legal dispute.