The U.S. and other Western governments may doggedly refuse to recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea, but one prominent American mapmaker will.
“We map de facto, in other words we map the world as it is, not as people would like it to be,” Juan José Valdés, National Geographic’s geographer and director of editorial and research for National Geographic Maps, tells U.S. News.
“As you can only surmise, sometimes our maps are not received in a positive light by some individuals who want to see the world in a different light,” Valdés says.
The magazine’s editorial, legal and cartographic leadership met Tuesday morning to discuss how to map Crimea’s political status. The stakeholders drafted a new policy document after deciding to temporarily indicate Crimea on maps as Ukrainian territory with a shading to indicate special status – similar to how the Gaza Strip and West Bank are shown. The regional capital Simferopol will be marked with a special administrative symbol.
National Geographic will show the peninsula as part of Russia after the Duma officially votes for annexation. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty Tuesday to annex Crimea, and the Russian parliament is expected to ratify the move later this week.
When the parliamentary vote happens “the document will be revised to indicate that the change has officially occurred and Crimea is officially part of Russia, then we will identify Crimea with the Russian boundary tint and the administrative capital will revert back to a standard administrative capital symbol,” Valdés says.
Despite the magazine’s impending recognition of Russia's expansion – which will also be reflected on stand-alone maps offered for sale – other American mapmakers will continue to show Crimea as part of Ukraine.
Rand McNally, a leading producer of educational atlases and maps, will not be updating materials displayed in classrooms nationwide.
“We take our direction from the State Department,” says company spokeswoman Amy Krouse.
Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama have declared Crimea's referendum on secession – approved by around 97 percent of voters Sunday – as illegal and invalid because it was conducted in violation of Ukraine’s constitution. They also say Russia is violating international law by occupying the region.
It’s unclear what policies will be adopted by online map-hosting sources – such as Wikipedia and Google Maps.
Wikipedia, a collaborative encyclopedia allowing user edits, is likely to be a battleground. A map on the Wikipedia’s English-language entry for Russia Tuesday morning showed Crimea’s annexation. The map was later replaced with one showing Crimea outside of Russia.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Google Maps showed Crimea as part of Ukraine.
Representatives for Wikipedia and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In a Wednesday email, Valdés tells U.S. News Crimea will indeed be shown within Russia’s international boundary if annexation is finalized by the Duma, but adds it will retain shading that indicates an area of special status. Maps will be “accompanied by an explanatory note to let the readers know as to its current political status,” he says.
Updated on March 19, 2014: This article was updated after National Geographic offered new details.