National Geographic Recognizes Crimea as Russian
On March 18 in a Bloomberg TV video, National Geographic’s Geographer Juan Valdés made the following statements on Crimea:
The current reality is based on the [March 16] referendum held this weekend that reported the vast majority of residents of Crimea want to go back to the Russian fold, so we are now waiting to hear from the [Russian] parliament. Once the Russian parliament approves the proposed annexation, then we will have to revise our maps to reflect the current reality that the Crimea is part of Russia.
The RT (Russia Today) television network was understandably delighted with National Geographic’s position with a March 19 article entitled:
“Current Reality” and Russian Propaganda
On March 21 Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill completing his country’s annexation of Crimea. So should Crimea be shown with the same color as Russia on maps?
No. Why? Because Crimea’s March 16 referendum, in which officials purport 97% of the voters approved secession, was held under Russian occupation. Most ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars boycotted—or were intimidated from voting in—the referendum. Many ethnic Russians, especially those married to Ukrainians, seem to prefer remaining in Ukraine, based on past votes. Ukrainians in Crimea, even those who speak Russian, are eyewitnesses to staged demonstrations of imported Russians asking for Russia’s protection. In other words, the March 16 referendum was a farce, a fake, a fraud, a fig leaf… well, you get the idea.
But Crimea’s parliament approved the referendum. True. But Russian forces stormed this parliament on February 27, installing the head of the Russian Unity party, Sergei Aksyonov, as Crimea’s premier. Mr. Aksyonov’s party received only 4% of the vote in 2010 elections. The parliamentary vote to join Russia on March 6 was held in the presence of armed (but somewhat disguised) Russian troops, and many elected lawmakers were denied entry, with many voting cards being “liberated” for pro-Russian use.
The current reality is that Russian forces controlled the parliament and the referendum. Neither reflected the will of the Crimean people.
Considerations on Mapping Political Reality
For accurate mapping of political sovereignty, the cartographer should consider four points: political claim, control of territory, international recognition of sovereignty, and time.
Political claim to Crimea is disputed, with both Ukraine and Russia claiming Crimea. Disputed regions usually earn a special pattern or color on maps, such as Kosovo, shown with a gray tone on National Geographic maps from 1999 to 2008. Kosovo declared independence while still being claimed by Serbia.
Control of Crimea by Russia is not absolute. As of March 23, 2014, there are still Ukrainian military bases and ships that function as symbols of Ukrainian sovereignty in Crimea (see map below). These may soon disappear, but it would be premature to concede Russian sovereignty while they remain. Once Russia demonstrates full military control, it must prove that it has political and economic control of the territory. Control is a multi-layered reality.
International recognition of Crimea as Russian territory is not likely anytime soon because Russia violated a key provision of the UN charter:
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
Time determines whether sovereignty is enduring or fleeting. Months or years may be necessary to judge a country’s claim and control of a region. For example, Morocco has claimed Western Sahara as a part of Morocco for decades, but its political control is limited and sovereignty is disputed. When Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait in 1990, Iraqi sovereignty was disputed, and then it was overturned in 1991.
Showing Crimea on Maps Realistically
Currently, Crimea should not be shown as part of Russia. There are significant disputes involving political claims, control, and international recognition. How then should Crimea be shown on maps? At this time, Crimea should be shown as disputed territory, which is usually a gray color on National Geographic maps with no sovereignty color. Transdniestria, between Moldova and Ukraine, serves as an example. The Associated Press plans to treat Crimea as “geographically distinct” from Russia and Ukraine. Not recognizing Crimea as Russian may postpone the need to change geographic names from Ukrainian to Russian spellings, such as Krims’ke Hory (Ukrainian) to Krymskiye Gory (Russian) for the Crimean Mountains.
Mapping reality is tricky and subjective. Do you go with the Russian version, Ukrainian version, or some other version of reality? Also the method of mapping makes a difference. An online digital map can be updated as events evolve; but a paper map can be easily rendered obsolete as time goes by, showing past realities instead of current ones.