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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Russia Considers Dropping Time Zones

Some See Vast Country's 11 Time Zones As Liability

December 08, 2009|By Clifford J. Levy The New York Times

MOSCOW — Vadim Vodyanitsky runs a fish processing plant in Russia's Far East, and one question looms over his day, as crucial as the trawler schedules or the Pacific tidal patterns. What time is it in Moscow, 5,000 miles away?

There are many ways to measure Russia's girth, but Vodyanitsky can speak to one of the most compelling: It has 11 time zones, from the Polish border to near Alaska, a system so vast that you can get a walloping case of jet lag from a domestic flight.

The time zones, set up by the Soviets to showcase the country's size, have long been a source of national pride, but the government is now viewing them as a liability and is considering shedding some.

In today's world of constant communication, it is hard to manage businesses and other affairs when one region is waking up and another is thinking about dinner. Vodyanitsky, for example, has his plant on the Kamchatka Peninsula, nine hours ahead of Moscow, and his office in Vladivostok, seven hours ahead. But his business often depends on decisions by regulatory and banking officials in the capital.

"It's extremely inconvenient getting anything done through Moscow," he said in a telephone interview. "For any activity, we often have to wait a day, wasting a whole 24 hours."

Vodyanitsky, 35, favors reducing the time difference between the Far East and Moscow to ease the strain on industry, but others are not so sure. In fact, the issue has blossomed in recent days into an intense debate across the country about how Russians see themselves, about how the regions should relate to the center, about how to address the age-old problem of creating a sense of unity in this land.

When President Dmitri Medvedev suggested last month that the country should contemplate scaling back the zones, he appeared to be offering support for proposals from senior officials in the Far East to trim the system by a few hours.

Medvedev emphasized that the government had not made a decision yet. But he indicated that revamping the time zones could play an important role in the push to modernize Russia's economy.