Drawing a blank on Georgia

The controversy over the missing maps of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Was it deliberate? Google

Google maps has been under attack this week from a variety of different parties for what was initially reported as the intentional
blanking of the maps of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan from their database.

The Azerbaijan Press Agency reported that the information was "…removed from the server after the military operations were launched in South Ossetia."

As one might expect this drew harsh criticism from many quarters of the web.

Indeed, a quick visit to the appropriate latlong will reveal a startlingly barren strip of terrain.

Whilst a number of Countries in the region have map data which is greatly reduced in its detail, none are totally blank. The
satellite imagery available on the same site reveals that there’s definitely something there - so what’s going on?

As the blanking of maps might possibly be filed under ‘evil’, Google were rapid to deny the accusation via both its GMaps blog and
the official Google blog itself. Maps product manager Dave Marsh assured readers that Google certainly hadn’t blanked the maps in
response to the hostilities, “Data for these countries were never on Google Maps in the first place.” Marsh states that coverage of those
countries hadn’t been “launched” as yet as they weren’t satisfied with the map data available to them, essentially declaring the whole affair an issue of quality control.

Marsh finishes his post by reporting that the issue has generated a lot of feedback which they are going to learn from. Startlingly, he specifically states that Google Maps users have said they would, “..rather see even very basic coverage of a
country than see nothing at all.”

This was a position that he acknowledges, “..makes sense..”, assuring users that they were starting to prepare data for the blank countries forthwith. He closes by letting pointing users to the Google Earth application, which contains full details of Georgian roads and cities.

Even acknowledging that no deletion of cities has taken place, for a company whose mission is to, ”organise the world's information and
make it universally accessible and useful” this seems like at best like an extraordinarily poorly judged prioritisation. For the company who recently announced it has found a trillion unique URL’s showing surprise that users might prefer even basic information to a totally
blank map seems at least a little suspect.

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
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Leader: The age of Putinism

There is no leader who exerts a more malign influence on world affairs than Vladimir Putin.

There is no leader who exerts a more malign ­influence on world affairs than Vladimir Putin. In Syria, Russia’s military intervention has significantly strengthened the tyrannical regime of Bashar al-Assad. Under the guise of fighting Islamist terrorism, Mr Putin’s forces have killed thousands of civilians and destroyed hospitals and schools. Syrian government forces and their foreign allies have moved closer to regaining control of the rebel-held, besieged eastern part of Aleppo, a city in ruins, after a period of intense fighting and aerial bombardment. In Europe, Russia has moved nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad, formerly the Prussian city of Königsberg, through the streets of which the great philosopher Immanuel Kant used to take his daily walk.

Across the West, however, Mr Putin is being feted. As Brendan Simms writes on page 30, the Russian president has “annexed Crimea, unleashed a proxy war in eastern Ukraine and threatens Nato’s eastern flank, to say nothing of his other crimes”. Yet this has not deterred his Western sympathisers. In the US, Donald Trump has made no secret of his admiration for the Russian autocrat as a fellow ethnic nationalist and “strongman”. The president-elect’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence is an invitation to Russian expansionism in the Baltic states and eastern Europe.

Mr Trump is far from alone in his admiration for Mr Putin. In France, François Fillon, the socially conservative presidential candidate for the Républicains, favours the repeal of European sanctions against Russia (imposed in response to the annexation of Crimea) and a military alliance in Syria. In return, Mr Putin has praised his French ally as “a great professional” and a “very principled person”.

Perhaps the one certainty of the French election next spring is that Russia will benefit. Marine Le Pen, the Front National leader and Mr Fillon’s likely opponent in the final round, is another devotee of the Russian president. “Putin is looking after the interests of his own country and defending its identity,” she recently declared. Like Mr Trump, Ms Le Pen seems to aspire to create a world in which leaders are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of rebuke.

In Britain, Paul Nuttall, the newly elected leader of the UK Independence Party, has said that Mr Putin is “generally getting it right” in Syria. Mr Nuttall’s predecessor Nigel Farage named the Russian leader as the politician he admired most.

Mr Putin, who aims to defeat the West by dividing it, could not have scripted more favourable publicity. But such lion­isation masks Russia’s profound weaknesses. The country’s economy has been in recession for two years, following the end of the commodities boom, the collapse in the oil price and the imposition of sanctions. Its corrupt and inefficient bureaucratic state now accounts for 70 per cent of its GDP. Its population is ageing rapidly (partly the result of a low ­fertility rate) and is forecast to shrink by 10 per cent over the next 30 years, while life expectancy is now lower than it was in the late 1950s.

Yet this grim context makes Mr Putin an even more dangerous opponent. To maintain his internal standing (and he is popular in Russia), he must pursue external aggression. His rule depends on seeking foreign scapegoats to blame for domestic woes. Not since the Cold War has the threat to Russia’s eastern European neighbours been greater.

How best to respond to Putinism? The United Kingdom, as Europe’s leading military power (along with France), will be forced to devote greater resources to defence. Theresa May has rightly pledged to station more British troops in eastern Europe and to maintain sanctions against Russia until the Minsk agreements, providing for a ceasefire in Ukraine, are implemented. The Prime Minister has also condemned Russia’s “sickening atrocities” in Syria. Germany, where Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term as chancellor, will be another crucial counterweight to a pro-Russian France.

It is neither just nor wise for the West to appease Mr Putin, one of the icons of the illiberal world. The Russian president will exploit any weakness for his own ends. As Tony Blair said in his New Statesman interview last week, “The language that President Putin understands is strength.” Although Russia is economically weak, it aspires to be a great power. We live in the age of Putinism. Donald Trump’s victory has merely empowered this insidious doctrine.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage