In a moment of curiosity I wandered over to bing maps to look at the Ukraine:

Bing Maps of Crimea

Bing Maps of Crimea

I noticed that the BBC’s map is very different to the above:

BBC Map of Crimea

BBC Map of Crimea

Notice that the BBC make out the Crimea to be some sort of large land mass extending in to the Black Sea, whereas Bing show it to be essentially a big island with a couple of major bridges. In one of them, it looks like Russia is taking control of a chunk of country, in the other it looks like they’re taking control of an island. The implications are very different, in that an island is much easier to control and defend.

It’s interesting to consider that these are at best maps of political boundaries yet the geography behind them is what’s actually important for military action. Thus as presented by the BBC and CNN, it’s easy to misinterpret the political boundary for actual landmass.

I’ve been following the BBC’s version of events which turns out to be questionable. Like every source it has a bunch of biases, and some cursory looking around the web will show that the Ukraine has threatened to drop Russia’s Black Sea fleet a few times. I’m no fan of Russian government, but if your neighbor goes unstable and threatens your ~23,000 personnel, 50 ships and a major military base… It shouldn’t be too surprising if they do something about it (which is not to say what’s happening is the best thing to do). This isn’t mentioned much by the BBC.

Of course, the BBC aren’t alone. Here’s CNN’s version:

CNN's map of Crimea

CNN’s map of Crimea

Al Jazeera similarly paint a peninsular story. Possibly the least biased we’ll find will be satellite/aerial imagery. Here’s Googles:

Google's satellite map of Crimea

Google’s satellite map of Crimea

The aerial tells another story, not quite island, not quite peninsular with more crossing points. Sadly there isn’t much streetview availability at the border/choke points between the north and south. Flickr’s map is equally lacking in content, otherwise it might be nice to find some pictures of what these bridges actually look like.

The lesson appears to be not to trust major news outlets for their maps, but to go verify things for yourself.

Map Comparison Tool

Map Comparison Tool

If you want to explore more, try geofabrik’s map comparison tool. Notice at the bottom that even the aerial imagery (Bing on the left, Google on the right) can tell a very different story. The depiction of shallow waters are very different between the two, and Google’s brown blob (top middle of the bottom right image) can lead you to thinking it’s easy to walk across the whole thing. In contrast, notice how Bing makes a much clearer land/sea divide with the dark blue and deeper greens.

Which map is best? That’s up to you.