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Datelines and Maps Are the Latest Casualties of Russia’s Crimea Invasion

Datelines and Maps Are the Latest Casualties of Russia’s Crimea Invasion

Though the United States and the European Union refuse to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin now firmly directs facts on the ground in the Black Sea peninsula. Crimeans are already receiving shiny new passports and using the Russian ruble as their new official currency. But for Putin, the cherry on top may come not from the streets of Simferopol and Sevastopol, but instead from the headquarters of the Associated Press in New York. The AP, in a semantic victory for the Russian strongman,  announced Wednesday that they would be changing their style to reflect the new reality in Crimea.

“Previously, we wrote ‘SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine (AP).’ But Ukraine no longer controls Crimea, and AP datelines should reflect the facts on the ground. Therefore, effective this week, we are using the city name and “Crimea”: “SEVASTOPOL, Crimea (AP),” Tom Kent, the deputy managing editor and standards editor for the AP, wrote on their blog. The AP, a non-profit wire service whose articles run in hundreds of publications in the United States and abroad, is an authoritative voice on style for most English-language publications.  

But the organization is not going quite so far as to indicate that Sevastopol is an unquestioned part of Russia with a “SEVASTOPOL, Russia” dateline. “The reason is that Crimea is geographically distinct from Russia; they have no land border. Saying just the city name and ‘Crimea’ in the dateline, even in the event of full annexation, would be consistent with how we handle geographically separate parts of other countries,” Kent wrote, comparing Crimea’s situation with the Italian city of Palermo — “PALERMO, Sicily (AP)” — where the second part of the dateline is occupied by the island of Sicily, not the country of Italy.  

The New York Times has also changed its style regarding the disputed region, going from “Ukraine” to simply “Crimea” in its Simferopol datelines.

Crimea’s geopolitical situation is a conundrum for international cartographers as well. Google Maps has the region in a red outline — but as still belonging to Ukraine. Competitors Bing and MapQuest also still list the peninsula as Ukrainian.

The standoff over Ukraine has also played out in the virtual world, where the editors of Wikipedia are at each others’ throats. After the the Russian map was repeatedly altered in a heated debate over whether Crimea should be denoted as a Russian territory, the online encyclopedia’s administrators locked the page. For now, Crimea has been left a light-green to Russia’s darker shade of the green. The lighter shade is supposed to represent a “claimed territory,” according to the page’s discussion board.

Meanwhile, RT, the pro-Kremlin news outlet, gleefully declared that National Geographic, the world’s authoritative map-maker, is firmly on Moscow’s side. “We map the world as it is: National Geographic maps Crimea as part of Russia,” their headline screamed.

But that isn’t quite true. National Geographic has in fact not yet decided how to depict the region on their maps. “We are waiting to see the results of Friday’s [Russian] parliamentary vote,” Juan Valdes, the geographer of the National Geographic Society told the organization’s news outlet. “If it is formally annexed, our policy will dictate that we shade the area gray, signifying that it is a disputed territory.” Other disputed areas in the region — including the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia — are gray on National Geographic maps.

“National Geographic Society’s cartographic policy is to portray to the best of our ability current reality. Most political boundaries depicted in our maps and atlases are stable and uncontested. Those that are disputed receive special treatment and are shaded gray as ‘Areas of Special Status,’ with accompanying explanatory text,” the organization said in a statement.

Rand McNally, an American publisher of maps and atlases used in classrooms all around the United States will not be changing their materials. “We take our direction from the State Department,” company spokeswoman Amy Krouse told US News.

Not that it really matters: Those maps don’t seem to be getting much use. Some Americans just think of Ukraine as “the place where Borat is from.”