Did the USSR have a counterpart to the USGS

I was randomly inspecting the globe via google maps and discovered this photo that someone posted of an overlook seemingly in the middle of nowhere in Russia. Tilting down, one can view a plaque, you can almost make out the inscription (not that I read Russian).

I can’t imagine another reason for it to be there other than a survey marker.

Does anyone know what this is?

Well, there’s the Russian Geological Research Institute (VSEGEI). According to this “Its main activities include state geological mapping of the Russian Federation and its adjacent water areas, creation of a state network of base geological and geophysical lines, parametric and superdeep wells, scientific and technical support for geological exploration, scientific, thematic and experimental-methodical studies”. I don’t know if that’s the same thing as the USGS.

You may be thinking of the famous Military Topographic Directorate (Военно-топографического управления), established 1812, which, especially during the Cold War, produced millions of highly detailed topographic maps covering nearly the entire globe.
Топографы особого назначения: кто и как обеспечивает войска точнейшей картографической информацией - ТРК Звезда Новости, 10.12.2017

Pretty much every country has its own version of the USGS. Countries that were subject to colonial control (ie part of some empire or another) may well have been originally mapped by the controlling country’s agency, but if you want maps, and often more importantly, surveys to determine land ownership, you need someone to provide overarching control. Until very recently mapping and surveying was an arduous exercise in applied trigonometry with survey markers all over the countryside.

That’s basically exactly the USGS.

I attended a lecture in the early 90’s by a mining engineer. He’d been sent to Russia to look at opportunities for joint ventures. He mentioned that, thanks to communism, ubiquitous state ownership of everything, one of the issues was land ownership. there were no comprehensive title registries - obviously a problem when trying to “own” and mine a plot of land. Many of the supposed titles for land he said went back to the days of the Tsars, where deeds lacked precision, would describe a plot like “start 40 paces west of the big boulder by the fork in the road, proceed for 200 paces then turn north for 400 paces.”

I suppose, however, the military had more precise maps. I recall reading during the cold war that any maps the USSR actually published might be far off to confuse their western enemies, not to mention omitting some big cities with military industries.

There are a number of distinct ‘land’ functions performed by government. The USGS has bundled some of them together, but it is not always the case [don’t know about USSR specifically].

  • Producing the topographic map structure of the country, and from that mapping the surface of the land.
  • Exploring and mapping the geological potential of the country.
  • A sort of vague environmental auditing / watchdog function.

With the other one mentioned earlier - creating and managing land ownership title systems - these may all be managed by different arms of govt, or different tiers.

That was all mapping everywhere, maybe slightly more sophisticated - ‘start 40 chains west of the X scratched into the big rock …’

I guess the point was that with more sophisticated technology and deep need to ensure I know what’s mine, Western society over the 1900’s evolved much more precise means or recording areas of land to attribute ownership, whereas for the USSR it wasn’t a priority - if two entities argued over a precise boundary then a senior party functionary would set them straight.

Here’s an article you might be interested in about Soviet maps. I have copies of these maps for Maryland that I bought directly from the Riga shop years ago.

Thanks the link! Fascinating article and I’ve bought two of the maps of areas of personal interest. Unfortunately only at the 1:500k scale. I guess they just weren’t important areas to the Soviets.

That is so cool! Thank you.