Territorial disputes are always a headache for mapmakers, and the geographers at Oxford University Press have jumped into the middle of the bitter argument between Moscow and Kyiv over the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed in March 2014.
Ukraine's embassy in London sent a letter to the distinguished publisher on October 13 complaining that the fourth edition of its Geography for Key Stage 3 textbook presents Crimea as a part of Russia.
The textbook further refers to a March 24 referendum in Crimea that has not been recognized by the international community. "The UK Government has condemned [the referendum] as illegal and repeatedly urged the Kremlin to stick to the (sic) international law and return Crimea to Ukraine," the embassy's letter states. It adds that a UN General Assembly resolution on Ukraine's territorial integrity also rejected Russia's takeover of the region.
A spokesman for Oxford University Press told RFE/RL on October 15 that the textbook in question is intended for "students aged 11 to 14" and is based on "detailed research into the political, social, and economic situation at the time of publication," taking into account "the level of the students, the learning objective."
However, the spokesman added that Oxford University Press continuously reviews its publications "to reflect changes in circumstance and feedback from various sources."
"We will be changing the wording used on this matter and will also include the UN position," he said.
The Oxford textbook places Crimea on a par with Kaliningrad, formerly a part of Germany that was incorporated into the Soviet Union after World War II, describing both as "exclaves of Russia." However, the text describes Crimea as territory "which Russia took from Ukraine in 2014."
The brouhaha has attracted the attention of RT, Russia's state-controlled English-language media company. An RT report asserts that Oxford University Press "has apparently recognized Crimea as part of Russia under international law."
In what seems like a bid to throw oil on the fire, RT mischaracterizes the embassy's letter to Oxford University Press. RT writes that the embassy "dispatched a formal letter, urging the world's largest publisher to 'correct [its] mistakes immediately' as the textbook content 'misleads students.' Unless redacted, [Kyiv] threatens to escalate the issue into a 'dispute.'"
In fact, the Ukrainian embassy's letter is far more diplomatic. "I hope that the recent edition of the textbook for students would be immediately updated and all mistakes corrected in order not to bring The Oxford University Press into disrepute."