Russian authorities appear to be systematically messing with GPS and other GNSS signals in multiple locations, a new report from the Center for Advanced Defense Studies concludes (CBS News, Foreign Policy, Moscow Times, Wired). The tactic is called GPS spoofing: broadcasting a false GPS/GNSS signal in a specific location to fool GPS/GNSS receivers and render them unreliable or unusable. The incidents appear to correlate with sensitive Russian facilities, active combat zones, and the travel itinerary of one Vladimir V. Putin. In one case, while Putin was opening a bridge between Russia and Crimea, nearby ships were suddenly informed by their GPS/GNSS receivers that they were dozens of kilometres away from their actual position.
Indiana University’s collection of some 4,000 Russian military topographic maps is being digitized, thanks to a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources.
“The world-changing differences documented by maps in the Eastern Bloc Borderlands project cannot be overstated,” says Michelle Dalmau, head of Digital Collections Services for IU Libraries, and the project’s principal investigator. “In some cases we see villages and settlements depicted that no longer exist.”
Created by the Russian Military from 1883 to 1947, the maps traveled widely through their tactical use in the field. In the years surrounding World War II, many were captured by opposing forces, including German and American troops. As a result, myriad stamps from institutions they passed through—such as the University of Berlin, the U.S. Army Map Service, and the CIA Map Library—mark the maps with a unique and visual history.
During the second half of the twentieth century, the Soviet Union’s military and civilian cartographers created topographical maps of the entire world of a very high standard of quality and accuracy. How they did so, and why, remains in large part a mystery, one that John Davies and Alexander J. Kent’s new book, The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World (University of Chicago Press, October) fails to solve completely.
The Red Atlas is not the definitive history of those Soviet mapping efforts because so much about those efforts remains a secret. The only reason we know about them is because, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, so many physical copies of those once-highly secret maps fell into the hands of map collectors. The Red Atlas talks about that: for more than a decade, Davies and Kent have been studying those maps. (I’ve been following their work. See the links at the bottom of this post for my earlier posts on the subject.) What they know about the Soviet mapping efforts—sources, methods, their reason for doing it—is extrapolated from the final product of those effort: the maps. The Red Atlas is above all else an exercise in cartographic forensics.
That Soviet spies created detailed topographic maps of the world, including their Cold War enemies, is not news. Wired had a feature on the maps last year, and I’ve been aware of the work of John Davies and Alex Kent on the subject for more than a decade.
But for some unexplained reason interest in Soviet maps has had a bit of a resurgence lately. Elliot Carter writes about the Soviet maps of Washington, D.C., and their myriad little errors at Architect of the Capital
Finally, Davies and Kent have written a book, The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World, which, they say, will be coming from the University of Chicago Press in September 2017.
As is often the case with disputed boundaries, what online maps show depends on who they’re showing it to. So when it comes to Crimea, which annexation by Russia two years ago many countries refuse to recognize (not least of which Ukraine!), Google Maps shows Crimea as Russian territory to Russian users, as Ukrainian territory to Ukrainian users, and disputed territory to everyone else. As the Washington Post reports, that didn’t stop Google from getting in trouble with Russia last month, when Google changed Crimean names in all versions of Google Maps to conform with a 2015 Ukrainian law that removed Soviet names from Ukrainian territory. Russian Crimean politicians called it “Russophobic” and “topographical cretinism,” according to the Post; by last Friday, though, the name changes had apparently been reverted. [WMS]