A spokeswoman for Apple, Trudy Muller, told Reuters that Apple had only made the changes for Russian users because of a new law that went into effect in the country. The company has not made changes to its map outside of Russia.
“We review international law as well as relevant US and other domestic laws before making a determination in labelling on our Maps and make changes if required by law. We are taking a deeper look at how we handle disputed borders in our services and may make changes in the future as a result,” she said.
In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea from Kyiv in a move that was condemned by much of the international community. “Our intention is to make sure our customers can enjoy using Maps and other Apple services, everywhere in the world,” the company said in a statement.
When a user types the name of the Crimean provincial capital Simferopol into Apple’s Maps and Weather apps, it displayed as “Simferopol, Crimea, Russia,” according to Reuters reporters in Moscow. But elsewhere the same location was displayed without specifying which country the area belonged to.
The US, where Apple is headquartered, and the EU do not recognise Crimea as Russian territory and have imposed sanctions against the peninsula and those they accuse of violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Vasily Piskaryov, chairman of the Duma security and anti-corruption committee, said Apple had complied with the Russian constitution.
Apple has been accused of bowing to Russia on this matter, who it has been in talks with for several months about what the State Duma described as an “inaccuracy” in the labelling of Crimea.
“There is no going back,” Piskaryov said. “Today, with Apple, the situation is closed – we have received everything we wanted.” Russia, he said, was always open to “dialogue and constructive co-operation with foreign companies”.
Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s foreign minister tweeted on Wednesday that Apple “did not give a damn” about the country’s pain. “Apple, please stick to hi-tech and entertainment. Global politics is not your strong side,” he tweeted.
In March, Apple changed its Maps app to also show Crimea as belonging to Russia when viewed from the country. However, when viewed from Ukraine the map shows no clear border between the two territories.
Ukraine’s US embassy added its voice to the widespread criticism on Twitter writing: “We guess Ukrainians not giving any thanks to @Apple this #Thanksgiving. So let’s all remind Apple that #CrimeaIsUkraine and it is under Russian occupation – not its sovereignty”.
Russian ex-world chess champion Garry Kasparov described the decision as “unacceptable appeasement”.
He added: “Software is soft power. American tech companies should stand up for the values of innovation that made their success possible, not bow down to dictators for a little extra cash they don’t even need.”