MOSCOW – In his 1979 novel The Island of Crimea, Vasily Aksyonov imagined the region’s flourishing independence from the Soviet Union. Aksyonov, a dissident writer who emigrated to America shortly after the book’s samizdat (underground) publication, is now lauded as a prophet. But his prophecy has been turned on its head: Today’s Crimea does not want independence from Ukraine; it wants continued dependence on Russia.
Traditionally the gem in the imperial crown, a lavish playground of czars and Soviet commissars – and, more important, the home of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet – Crimea became part of Ukraine under Nikita Khrushchev in 1954. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russian President Boris Yeltsin apparently forgot to claim it back, so Ukraine kept a territory in which nearly 60% of the two million inhabitants identify as Russians.