VLADIVOSTOK - Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev unveiled a $1 billion bridge to a remote Far East island on Monday, seen as a symbol of the Kremlin's eagerness to retain influence in the region at any cost to counter the rise of China.

"We must fully realize the Far East's potential, integrate this territory into the national economic space," Medvedev said in a meeting with regional officials, after inaugurating the bridge.

The 3.1-km (1.9-mile) bridge links the port city of Vladivostok to Russky Island, a barren former military base where Russia is to host the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on Sept. 1.

The bridge, conceived in the golden days of Russia's oil bonanza before the 2008 economic crisis, has come in for harsh criticism from anti-Kremlin opposition who dubbed it "a bridge to nowhere" and said the cost was too high.

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