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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Google Unveils Its Maps of Russia

Itar-TassVladimir Dolgov, head of Google Russia, speaking Thursday with Alexander Druz, who will head its Q & A service.
Until just recently, it was a crime to produce and distribute overly detailed maps of Russia. Now you can find them all online.

Google on Thursday launched its Russia Map service, showing the locations of and providing directions to people looking for places or businesses all across the country.

The move is the latest in the company's attempts to open up the country further. In Soviet times, maps were deliberately misleading, and streets were even named haphazardly to conceal the exact location of things.

When Google Earth was launched in 2005, Russia was just one of many countries to warn that making so many geographical details available to the public represented a real security risk.

A Federal Security Service general said that this would mean terrorists would no longer need to reconnoiter their targets. "Now a U.S. company will do the work for them," Lieutenant General Leonid Sazhin said.

In what analysts say is a sign of the times, however, the government issued a directive in May that effectively lifted all of the old restrictions on access to "precise geographical data."

"Until lately, the legal status of Google's maps in Russia was murky because Russian laws forbade making so much detail publicly accessible," said Yevgeny Yeremchenko, director of the research and development portal at Cnews.ru. "But like everywhere else, the tendency toward liberalizing access to data has gained the upper hand here."

Google's maps will provide web surfers with a wealth of geographical data about the country, including about cities that were once closed.

"The Google map services is a very convenient service that allows quick and easy access to local cartographic information," said Vladimir Dolgov, head of Google Russia. "It works with the Russian language via any Internet connection method."

The Russian-language capability to find streets and places in large and medium-size cities like Moscow, St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk is one the new site's biggest selling points.

Because of the way Russian grammar works, the firm had to tweak its search engine to deal with the fact that the same word can have a number of different endings. The service uses local search and satellite images to provide users with a three-dimensional view of buildings and terrain. Users can choose from map and satellite images, as well as a hybrid option. The site should help people trying to get around, as users can customize maps to show particular routes between locations, accompanied with a graphic description of how to get there.

The Yandex.ru portal, which is Google's main competitor in Russia, already offers a map service, and analysts say the new Google service could squeeze out its local competitor.

"Yandex.ru is tiny compared to Google and has nothing like Google's global clout," Yeremchenko said.

But Yandex editor Yelena Kolmanovskaya said the company had embarked on its own expansion plan to extend its services in major Russian cities.

"There is no pressure on us from Google as far as map services are concerned," Kolmanovskaya said. "But the fact that their portal now works in Russian might change the situation."