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Coca-Cola, Google enter Ukraine-Russia minefield

Coca-Cola angers Russia, Ukraine

Navigating the fragile diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Russia has proven difficult for Google and Coca-Cola, which felt the wrath of both nations after major online faux-pas this week.

Coca-Cola faced fire after it originally posted a New Year's greeting on a Russian social media site which featured a map of Russia that excluded Crimea, the region of Ukraine that it annexed in 2014.

After facing pressure from a number of Russian users on Vkontakte — the region's answer to Facebook — Coca-Cola posted a revised version of its map which included the region.

But changing the map of Russia to include Crimea only prompted further outrage from Ukrainian users who issued a barrage of insults across social media and called for a boycott of Coca-Cola - a campaign which also found support amongst regional politicians.


In a statement published late Tuesday, Ukraine's U.S. Embassy said it had express concerns about the post to both the U.S. Department of State and Coca-Cola itself, urging the company to make an immediate correction.

"Coca-Cola's actions violate the official U.S. position condemning Russia's illegal occupation of Crimea, which is and has always been an integral part of Ukraine," the embassy wrote in an online statement.

The post was later taken down altogether.

A spokesperson for the company told CNBC in an email that the stylized map was changed by a hired agency without the company's knowledge or approval.

"We, as a company, do not take political positions unrelated to our business, and we apologize for the post," the spokesperson said.

Google Translate results compare Russia to Mordor

Coca-Cola isn't the not the only company facing criticism in the region, with Google having to explain incorrect translations service between Ukrainian and Russian.

Earlier this week, anyone wanting an Ukrainian-to-Russian translation of "Russian Federation" would get the result "Mordor"— the region occupied by evil forces in J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy novels, including the "Lord of the Rings" series.

The surname of the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, came out as "sad little horse," while Google also confirmed to CNBC that the Ukrainian word for "Russians" was appearing as "occupiers."

Women walk past an outdoor stage with a banner reading: 'Crimean spring' during a snowfall in central Simferopol on March 17, 2015.
Euphoria fades in Crimea after a year of Russian rule

Though some reports questioned whether the company had been hacked, Google chalked the issue up to a glitch in the automated system, and emphasized that there are no humans actually translating the text.

"When Google Translate generates a translation, it looks for patterns in hundreds of millions of documents to help decide on the best translation for you," a Google statement sent to CNBC said.

"But automatic translation is very difficult, as the meaning of words depends on the context in which they're used. This means that not all translations are perfect, and there will sometimes be mistakes or mistranslations. We always work to correct these as quickly as possible when they are brought to our attention," Google explained.

Google's spokesperson confirmed that the issue has now been fixed.