Crimea maps scandals: Google offends Russia, then Ukraine

A controversy sparked last week over Google’s decision to change the names of Crimean settlements appearing on Google Maps, in accordance with the Ukrainian authorities’ “decommunization” campaign.

In May 2016, the Ukrainian parliament renamed 70 settlements in Crimea, mostly choosing names of Crimean Tatar origin. Thus Krasnogvardeyskoe (‘Red Guard’) became “Yany Kapu” while Sovetskoe switched to “Ichi.”

These changes appeared on both Google Maps’ Russian and Ukrainian versions on July 27.

Some changes also appeared in the name of cities in mainland Ukraine. Thus Dnepropetrovsk (spelt Dnipropetrovsk in Ukrainian), a major industrial city in central-eastern Ukraine, saw its Google Maps name changed to “Dnipro,” following the new Ukrainian law.

Google’s moves unleashed a flurry of criticism from Russian and Russo-Crimean officials.

The head of Crimean government, Sergey Askyonov, accused the US search company of trying to “create its own reality” and of “pandering to feelings of Russophobia in Ukraine.”

Nikolai Nikiforov, Russia’s Communications Minister, saw in Google’s move a “short-sighted policy” and said that he hoped “the mistake is corrected.”

“If Google pays so little attention to Russian law and Russian place names then it will not be able to do business effectively on Russian territory,” the Russian minister threatened.

Finally, on July 29, Google restored the previous names in both the Russian and the Ukrainian versions of Google Maps as far as Crimea was concerned.

Crimea Google maps

The old Soviet names Kirivskoye, Pravda, Pervomayskoye (‘First-of-May’), Krasnogvardeyskoye (‘Red Guard’), Oktyabrskoye (‘October’) and Sovetskiy reappeared on Google Maps, even in their Ukrainian version. 

Russia has been claiming sovereignty over Crimea since March 2014. Amid the revolutionary turmoil that hit Ukraine at that time, a controversial referendum backed Russia’s claim, a few weeks after the Russian-speaking peninsula was invaded by a special Russian task force.

Neither Ukraine nor the United Nations have recognized Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea.

Amid the dispute, map publishers, search engines, and a range of other organizations have come under fire from both Ukraine and Russia depending on whether they attributed Crimea to one or the other.

In late December 2015, Russian patriots felt offended when Coca Cola posted a greeting card on Vkontakte, the leading Russian social network, showing a map of Russia without Crimea and two other peripheral territories. After numerous comments expressing various degrees of dismay, the community moderator apologized and posted an amended map.

Earlier this year Oleg Mikheyev, a member of the State Duma (the lower house of the Russian parliament), requested the Prosecutor General to inquire into TripAdvisor, whose website displays Crimea as a Ukrainian territory. Mikheyev suggested this misrepresentation could be enough to ban the US company from operating in Russia, as reported by East-West Digital News.

Sources: Google Maps, The Moscow TimesRBCMeduza, Bloomberg.

Topics: Crimea, International, Internet, News, Online services, Regions, Search engines
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