- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Google was let off the hook by a top Russian official Tuesday over a spat involving how Crimea is displayed to Google Maps users in Russia.

Vasily Piskaryov, a leading member of the lower house of the Russian legislature, the State Duma, said Google has complied with Moscow’s demand that Crimea be rendered to Russian internet users as Russian territory rather than Ukrainian, putting a hold on plans to pursue penalties against the company for violating a federal law protecting “established rules for assigning or using names of geographical objects.”

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, spurring international condemnation in the form of ongoing sanctions imposed by the United States and allied countries who continue to contest Moscow’s actions as an illegal occupation.

Google Maps has designated the Black Sea peninsula differently in subsequent years depending on the user’s internet connection — typically as Russian for Russian internet users and Ukrainian for most others. Russian users recently reported irregularities, however, prompting the chairman of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, to summons a Google official for questioning last month.

“The Russian representative office of Google was given a month to eliminate the error, and we see that this work has now been done,” said Mr. Piskarev, the chairman of the State Duma Committee on Security and Anti-Corruption. “Any company operating in the territory of our country must, without any exceptions, comply with Russian legislation.”

“In case of repeated violations, we reserve the right to appeal to the authorized bodies with the requirements to ensure strict compliance with Russian laws on the territorial integrity of our country and bring those responsible to justice,” he said in a statement posted on the State Duma’s website.

Russian media outlets reported last week that Google acknowledged an issue that affected what the company described as a small number of Russian customers of Apple’s iOS mobile operating system.

“We are making every effort to objectively depict the disputed regions, and where we have local versions of Google Maps, like in Russia, we follow local legislation when displaying names and borders,” said a Google spokesperson.

In a statement Tuesday, Mr. Piskaryov said that Google risked being held accountable under Article 19.10 of the Russian Federation’s Code of Administrative Offenses, which carries fines of up to 3,000 rubles — or about $45 — for officials found guilty of violating the Moscow’s geography law.

Valeriy Chaly, the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., sent a letter to Google last week urging the company against caving to Moscow, according to Kiev.

“Chalyi stressed that the situation with the incorrect image of Crimea on Google Maps is absolutely contrary to the clear and unchanged position of the U.S. Administration, the U.S. Congress and the United Nations,” the Ukrainian Embassy in D.C. said in a statement.

Russian officials have previously threatened to outright ban Google for ignoring other rules, including earlier this year when the company was reluctant to comply with legislation barring search engines from linking to websites outlawed by Moscow’s strict censorship regime.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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