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A photo of workers putting up a new sign at Crimea's local parliament building.

Workers put up a new sign at the local parliament building in Simferopol on March 19, 2014. The sign reads "State Council of the Crimean Republic."

PHOTOGRAPH BY THOMAS PETER, REUTERS

Eve Conant

for National Geographic

Published March 19, 2014

What has been a question for international leaders is now a question for cartographers: How will Crimea be shown on maps?

Depending on whom you ask, it is either part of Russia or part of Ukraine. For mapmakers, the decision to change the status of a region is based on consultations with multiple authoritative sources and extensive research.

The National Geographic Society, one of the only nongovernmental map policy bodies in the world, said Wednesday it had made no formal decision on Crimea, despite erroneous reports claiming it had remade its maps to depict Crimea as part of Russia.

"We are waiting to see the results of Friday's [Russian] parliamentary vote," said Juan Valdes, the Geographer of the National Geographic Society. "If it is formally annexed, our policy will dictate that we shade the area gray, signifying that it is a disputed territory."

Valdes said that change would be accompanied by text explaining the dispute. National Geographic has followed this convention on many occasions, including when mapping Abkhazia, Gaza and the West Bank, South Ossetia, and a number of other disputed territories.

Explaining its policy further, National Geographic released a statement on Tuesday:

"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.

"In the case of Crimea, if it is formally annexed by Russia, it would be shaded gray and its administrative center, Simferopol', would be designated by a special symbol. When a region is contested, it is our policy to reflect that status in our maps. This does not suggest recognition of the legitimacy of the situation."

U.S., European, and other world leaders have said they will not recognize Crimea as part of Russia, following what many have described as an "illegal" referendum earlier this week.

U.S. State Department press spokesperson Peter Velasco told National Geographic: "We reject the Russian attempt to annex Crimea; therefore, we have no plans to change U.S. government maps." He says the annexation is "a threat to international peace and security and against international law. Crimea is part of Ukraine. We reject Russia's military intervention and its illegal land grab, both of which plainly violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine."

According to National Geographic's long-standing cartographic policy, while a map "strives to be apolitical," the Society's policy "is one of portraying the world from a de facto point of view; that is, to portray to the best of our judgment the current reality."

William Pomeranz, an expert on Russia and Eurasia and deputy director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Kennan Institute, says the current situation is a "conundrum" for mapmakers.

"Russia is going to legally incorporate Crimea into the Russian Federation very fast and claim it is Russian territory, and yet no one will recognize it." When it comes to illustrating that current reality on a map, Pomeranz says, "You're not going to get everyone happy."

92 comments
Adriana Poterash
Adriana Poterash

Democracy - originates from the Greek δημοκρατία (dēmokratía), means "rule of the people", dêmos - people, and kratos - power or rule.

96%=power/rule of the people, and that is what matter!

Diane Voripaieff
Diane Voripaieff

Crimea has been a part of greater Russia for hundreds of years. My father's family has its roots there and they have been there since the early 1600s. We are Russian and not Ukrainian. I am the first generation born outside of Russia and am 78 years old. My father's classmates in St. Petersburg ,many of whom were from this southern area , also were Russian. It is a long and very complicated history and should not be written off without further research by organizations such as the National Geographic Magazine.

Trinh Dinh
Trinh Dinh

Crimea is a part of Russia??? Ridiculous it is. Its an invasion and nobody except Russian accepts it.

Vlad VDV
Vlad VDV

Wow, I will be canceling National Geographic subscription and make sure all my friends cancel it too!


The whole World didn't not recognize this fake Referendum in Crimea and National Geographic did? Did you watch the last UN Security Council meetings regarding Ukraine, where every single country took a stand to condemn Russian and it's aggression as well provided a united oppinion that Referendum is fake. 

Are you, National Geographics, above the law with your own opinions? If so, you should be banned from the United States and Europe completely. 


For all those people commenting about this Referendum as "democratic", I want to say a few things. Did you know that any Russian citizen were able to vote there? Youtube a video where Russian citizen (a journalist) voted with Russian passport, simply because she stays and works in Crimea.  

Did you know that you didn't even need the Ukrainian passport, just any paper proving that you're Ukrainian or local was enough to vote.  

Did you know that they didn't have lists of voters, so you can just come to voting area and hand-write your name to be added to a list of voters, and people were doing it over and over in different counties.  

Did you know that Crimea tatars completely boycotted the Referendum, yet Russian media reported that 40% of them showed up. 

 Did you know that none of the International or Ukrainian news media were allowed anywhere near the voting buildings. Only the Russian media were there.  

Russia vetoed to allow any OSCE observers for this Referendum, they still deny access to OSCE to Crimea.  


And finally did you see Russian gunmen all over the city streets, with heavy machine guns and APCs. I wonder if they are the ones who counted the votes on this Referendum?


People don't believe any word of Russian propaganda, this Referendum is joke. 


And you, National Geographic - I was of a better opinion about you.

 







Adriana Poterash
Adriana Poterash

Today, I will subscribe to National Geographic for the first time in my life.  

Besides valuing it as an exemplary publication for decades, I want to show my support for those who respect the results of the legitimate democratic process and the will of the people ( the majority of population - as it must be in any democracy). 

I value their own independent voice not based on political influences - to me that is a truly American attitude, and their professional attitude as a geographic journal with major role to reflect its times.  

I hope, many more people would subscribe - to learn more about history of other countries and their cultures ( as I can see some need to upgrade their knowledge of history), and to appreciate the beauty of our world that we are trying to build peacefully and truthfully from a clean slate ( meaning - not based on old hatreds, prejudices, double standards, ulterior motives, greed etc), as this day is good as any other to start it.

David Stockton
David Stockton

Regardless of political opinions, accuracy should always prevail when it comes to keeping maps up to date.  Crimea should be shown on the new map of Europe as part of Russia, regardless of whether the US or the European Union recognizes it or not.  A good precedent is the annexation of the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) by the Soviet Union in the 1940s.  This was never recognized by the United States, but that doesn't mean the annexation did not take place, and most maps from the Cold War era show the Baltics as being part of the Soviet Union.  However illegal or immoral the rest of the world sees Crimea's annexation by Russia, it should not get in the way of the fact that, at least for the time being, the annexation has occurred and maps should reflect that.

Jack McDaniels
Jack McDaniels

Crimea is now part of Russia, that isn't going to change, do the right thing and show the world as it is so that no one gets confused when deciding to travel.

Sergey Kadinsky
Sergey Kadinsky

As a loyal subscriber, I've noticed a few inconsistencies with National Geographic's mapping policy. The organization recognizes North Cyprus as de facto independent, but not Abkhazia and Nagorno Karabakh. Care to explain?

KENNETH LANE
KENNETH LANE

A greater question is how should the map of the middle east be draw after over 50 years of invasion by the US?  Finger pointing is so usefull!

David Miller
David Miller

Show Crimea as a region of disputed sovereignty (gray). This follows the NG policy for other disputed places like Western Sahara, Palestinian Territories, and Northern Cyprus. Russia claims Crimea and is gaining control, Ukraine claims it but is losing control. The wishes of the Crimean people are unknown since the parliamentary votes and the referendum were done under Russian occupation.


Showing Crimea as Russian territory is premature. Russian de facto control is still dependent on the future actions of Ukrainian military holdouts in Crimea. Russian sovereignty over Crimea is subject to international recognition, which is not likely to happen soon. National Geographic never recognized the annexation of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990, and it took about a year to show Kosovo as independent on NG Maps. What is the rush with Crimea?

Lubomyr Luciuk
Lubomyr Luciuk

Mr Pomeranz claims to be an 'expert' yet he calls the invasion of Ukraine's Crimea, the bogus 'referendum' held under Russian army auspices (aided by local  bullyboy collaborators,) confirmed by a 'Treaty' between a president-in-perpetuity and former KGB man with "the Goblin" of Crimea, a gang member, "legal"? Neither recognized by the EU, nor the USA, nor Canada, the invasion of Ukraine by hostile military forces is an act of war and until that war is over, and it's not, Crimea remains part of Ukraine, under occupation. As a professional geographer I find the National Geographic Society's proposal to validate Russian imperialism morally offensive. If you do this and you can be sure I will teach every class I ever teach again about how the NGS betrayed democracy in Europe.

Serge M.
Serge M.

As for the brainwash: most of those writing here are brainwashed, no matter on which side of the political fence they are. Americans, Russians, Ukrainians, British, Germans, Serbs, Greeks, etc., etc, etc. Practically everybody is brainwashed by their own party of this Great Information War. Please, do not pretend not to be…

Ed G
Ed G

First of all...cowardly response by National Geographic.  Cancel my subscription.


Second, what was the National Geographic policy following the illegal annexation of Latvia, Lithuania, & Estonia in 1940 by Russian forces who were allied with Hitler in the domination and destruction of Europe.  By this act, Russians very substantially contributed to the subsequent grievous loss of life throughout Europe and even in their own country.  It would be interesting to note how quickly you caved back then. 


(Note: as a small boy, I recall a note on National Geographic maps saying the US did not recognize their Baltic annexations--it's the LEAST you could do now.)

I. B.
I. B.

It should be black colour as it is occupied territory which hasn't legal status and administration.

Remington Glock
Remington Glock

The Crimea is Russian land. The area was immortalized in Alfred Tennyson's, 'Charge of the Light Brigade.' Where Russia fought the combined armies of Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire. The Crimean people have voted. It is over.

Christine Nedilsky
Christine Nedilsky

This is a ridiculous debate. Crimea is Ukraine. Russia illegally invaded the land and took something that was not theirs to take. That vote is not legitimate and therefore does not count. People need to open their eyes. Ukraine will never get the fresh start they so desperately need with Russia breathing down their neck. слава україні.

Fuuuuck Geographic
Fuuuuck Geographic

Russians fascists illegally invaded to Ukraine's Crimea. Referendum was also illegal and it is was forged.

John Newcomb
John Newcomb

If Russia illegally invades Ukraine's Crimea, promotes and authorizes an illegal referendum, and then annexes the territory, shouldn't the WHOLE border of Russia be shaded grey at least until an independent international court decides that Crimea is in fact a part of Russia? 


In effect, the result of incorporating a contest territory is that it taints the validity of the larger territory into which it is being annexed until and unless some sort of international, independent validation process.


With Russian nationalists and Ukraino-Russophiles clamouring for a Russian invasion of Ukraine's Eastern provinces, this issue might be coming up again soon. 

Aleksandr Miroshnichenko
Aleksandr Miroshnichenko

Hm... US - just fly with your F-16 over Ukrainian-Crimea - And you will drow right maps few minutes later.

Mykola Swarnyk
Mykola Swarnyk

@Adriana Poterash In fact there was 34%, that what was presented on the UN hearings. There is only about 60 ethnic Russians, and not all of them are really crazy about Putin`s politics. So, please learn to count, not to shout.

Mykola Swarnyk
Mykola Swarnyk

@Diane Voripaieff In fact it was from the 15th Century Crimean Tatar state. It was under Russia, but only 160 yrs. Under Ukraine 60. Russians killed about 2/3 of Tatars and than displaced the rest. Ukrainians gave Crimea water and electricity and allowed Tatars to come back to their land. Now Russia starts to kill again. If you are western journalist, you will be probably kidnapped or beaten by Russian "Self-defence".

Stas K
Stas K

@Trinh Dinh  Invasion or not. It is a part of Russia. The occupying nation is Russia thus territory of the Russian Federation, final.  

Aymen Aldarhobi
Aymen Aldarhobi

@Trinh Dinh  you are and idiot, i live in Crimea, Crimea was always Russia. Invasion? what??!?! 97% of people here always wanted Russia, all of my friends want Russia. 

Stas K
Stas K

@Vlad VDV  Just because you and your western propaganda does not want Crimea to be a part of Russia does not change the fact. IT IS A PART OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION. The Russian Federation is the occupying force, period! I am not choosing sides here of who is right and who is wrong. It would be embarrassing for NG to not change the map because "Obama" said so. They might as well change their name and do something else. So please cancel your subscription and keep on watching your own propaganda (CNN and such) that will show the things you want to see, because unless someone goes in and takes the land back, it will remain a territory of Russia. Just saying. 

Aymen Aldarhobi
Aymen Aldarhobi

@I. B.  it is not occupied!! we want Russia!! understand that, 60% people here are Russians..no one here talks in Ukrainian, i can say because i live in Crimea


Lubomyr Luciuk
Lubomyr Luciuk

@Remington Glock  How can you vote when your country is occupied? Why did the Crimean Tatars, the indigenous people of Crimea, boycott this staged referendum? I suppose you would think that a 123% vote in favour in the City of Sevastopol is acceptable? Thankfully the USA, UK, all of the EU, Canada and every other civilized country in the world has condemned Russian imperialism against Ukraine and called this "referendum" what is was, a farce.

Ed G
Ed G

@Remington Glock  

It seems to me that Russia lost that war and very nearly lost its naval fleet a few years later in 1963 when they cruelly quelled an uprising in Poland.  That fleet was only saved thanks to the USA.  


Looking back,  clearly a mistake on our part except that a grateful Czar subsequently gave us a good deal on Alaska.

I. B.
I. B.

@Remington Glock  We are tired to hear every time Crimea is mentioned that it was once part of Russia. Anybody there stating that Kuwait was part of Iraq? or Israel part of Palestine? or that Taiwan used to be part of China? or that Pakistan used to be part of India? Yes this fact is part of the historical background of Crimea, which ought to also include the fact that it was once part of the Ottoman Empire, the Crimean Khanate, the Venetian State, the Mongol Empire, etc., etc.

What bothers is that the fact is presented as a rationale for why Russia has invaded. Yes, 60% of the population are ethnic Russians. But 99% of the population of Puerto Rico are ethnic Hispanics and over 95% use Spanish as their first language but I highly doubt that anyone would consider those facts a valid reason for Spain to invade. Indeed, only those people who live in Crimea and are over 60 lived there when it was a part of Russia and they would have to be over 65 to remember that fact. So let’s stop the knee jerk impulse to continually mention this 60 year old fact each time Crimea is named.

KENNETH LANE
KENNETH LANE

@Christine Nedilsky  The "vote" in the Ukraine on rejoining Russia is exactly as legitimate as any US election, perhaps more honest in some ways.  Our US elections are rigged and totally dishonest and are getting more so with each passing Rightwing day.

Diane Voripaieff
Diane Voripaieff

@John Newcomb Please do not over look the ultra nationalist Ukrainians. This group is never mentioned in the press. Remember World War II ?

Aleksandr Miroshnichenko
Aleksandr Miroshnichenko

What do you mean about legal or illegal? The main point is democracy, the main point is how people wants to live. The 96% of crimeans wants to live in Russia.

KENNETH LANE
KENNETH LANE

@Lubomyr Luciuk @Remington Glock  


Well Americans vote even though their nation is controlled by Rightwing Stooges and their votes have NOTHING to do with those appointed to office by their Supreme Court of Rightwing Stooges.  Plaese explain how the US is not occupied?

K M
K M

You know nothing about the czars so stop acting like an ignorant American. And contrary to what you and people like you think, not everything in the world is the US's business and not everyone has to act grateful when they didn't ask the US to butt in in the first place.

Ed G
Ed G

Correction: 1863.

Diane Voripaieff
Diane Voripaieff

@I. B. @Remington Glock I do think you need to recheck your facts. This area was under the hegemony of many powers since the 1300s and before. However I think you will find the majority is Russian and that is just a fact. The means of recognition is what is under dispute.Our world is controlled, not by Putins or Obamas but rather by the popular press and more importantly by means of corporate communication. One needs to look at what is being said and by whom.Neither side has the answer..

Dmitry Zaulichny
Dmitry Zaulichny

@I. B. @Remington Glock  


> We are tired to hear every time Crimea is mentioned that it was once part of Russia.


Well, you can have a rest, because it is now part of Russia. Again.

I. B.
I. B.

@Aleksandr Miroshnichenko  And, do you really think that referendum with occupied parliament and all Crimea and self-appointed administration, with results declared before event, without observers, debates, with tortuted all "not right thinking" and journalists, it  was really "democratic"?

Aleksandr Miroshnichenko
Aleksandr Miroshnichenko

@Lubomyr Luciuk - there are much more Russians who don't want to live anywere but Russia. It was really surprising for me too. Anyway Ukraine is like cow for EU (in their minds), but EU don't want to include Ukraine in EU with full EU rights.

Aleksandr Miroshnichenko
Aleksandr Miroshnichenko

@I. B. Russia has invited international observers to referendum. Occupied? - just peace control. You's better look for elections in Iraq that was really occupied by USSelf-appointed administration in Kiev, and US and EU think it is Okay. 

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