Many countries, including the United States, have long had sophisticated survey agencies to produce accurate maps of their own territory. So has the Soviet Union, but until recently its agency had an extra chore: drawing phony maps.
In a burst of "glasnost," Moscow's top cartographer Viktor Yashchenko now admits that from the 1930s onward nearly all published Soviet maps were deliberately falsified. "Roads and rivers were moved," he says. "City districts were tilted. Streets and houses were incorrectly indicated." His agency also produced accurate maps, but treated them as state secrets."We received numerous complaints" from the Soviet public, says Yashchenko. "People did not recognize their motherland on maps." But the deception continued for decades, he says, solely because of the leadership's "spy mania."
What makes this tale especially striking, of course, is that the CIA has long used reconnaissance satellites to draw precisely detailed maps of the Soviet heartland. For most of the Cold War, the Kremlin's geographic disinformation hurt nobody except its own citizens.