Apple capitulates to the Kremlin, and recognizes Crimea as Russian territory

Russian president Vladimir Putin motorcycles through Sevastopol, Crimea.
Russian president Vladimir Putin motorcycles through Sevastopol, Crimea.
Image: Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
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Most of the world doesn’t recognize Crimea as part of Russia. But Apple does.

The region, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, is now identified as Russian territory on Apple Maps and Apple Weather.

The State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, issued a statement Wednesday saying that “inaccuracies [in the apps]…were finally eliminated.” It says the news was delivered to the chairman of the Committee on Security and Anti-Corruption, Vasily Piskarev, by an Apple representative, Daria Ermolina. 

“We see that everything has happened the way we wanted it,” Piskarev told Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Russian troops took over the disputed Ukrainian territory five years ago, drawing condemnation from the international community. Just a small handful of nations—Cuba, Syria, North Korea, Belarus, and Venezuela among them—have recognized Russia’s claim to Crimea. Last year, Russia constructed a fence, topped with barbed wire, that stretches the length of the border between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine. Crimea is currently under US trade sanctions, and some tech companies have restricted access for users in the area.

When viewed on Apple devices outside of Russia or Crimea, the area is not identified as belonging to either Russia or Ukraine. The changes were first reported by the BBC

Apple, a US company, clearly “demonstrated its desire to maintain and develop its position in the Russian market,” said lawmaker Leonid Levin, according to the Duma statement. 

“It is noteworthy that mutual understanding was achieved without the use of administrative procedures, in an open dialogue between the State Duma and company representatives,” Levin added.

Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs quickly took to Twitter to blast Apple’s decision:

Apple’s acquiescence to the Kremlin comes days after company CEO Tim Cook joined US president Donald Trump for a tour of a Texas manufacturing plant that makes Mac Pro computers. Trump claimed the plant was new, and was being opened thanks to him. In fact, the facility has been operating since 2013.

Cook was later slammed by one reporter for letting his company be “used as part of a false marketing campaign from the president of the United States.” Tech blogger John Gruber called the appearance “a low moment in Apple’s proud history.” And although Cook has pushed back publicly against some of Trump’s policies, the president’s 2017 tax cuts have saved Apple billions of dollars. This, combined with a hope the company can avoid the bite of Trump’s oft-threatened tariffs on China, has made Cook more willing to play along, some believe.

Meanwhile, a majority of Apple employees support Cook’s continuing engagement with Trump, according to a survey commissioned by Fortune.

Google has also shifted borders in its maps due to regional disputes. The borders of Arunachal Pradesh, for example, which is an area administered by India but claimed as a section of Tibet by China—which also claims Tibet—is displayed as part of India when viewed in India; as part of China when viewed in China; and as separate from both countries when viewed in the US.

Moving forward, Russian legislators will monitor Apple Maps and Apple Weather, said Vasily Piskarev, who warned there will be “no going back” to the way Crimea was displayed previously on the company’s devices.

An Apple spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.