November 13, 2009 in Nation/World

Russia considering trimming time zones

Eleven would likely shrink to four over 5,500-mile area
David Nowak Associated Press
Associated Press photo

President Dmitry Medvedev delivers his annual state-of-the-nation address in the Kremlin, in Moscow, on Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

MOSCOW – Russia has 11 time zones across its vast territory – and its leaders believe that’s just too many hours in the day.

President Dmitry Medvedev suggested Thursday that Russia reduce the number of time zones in the name of economic efficiency, which could have residents in the far eastern city of Vladivostok eating their breakfast blini at the same time their Chinese neighbors just a few miles away are slurping their noodles at lunch.

With one-ninth of the world’s land mass, Russia stretches from Kaliningrad, which is next to Poland, more than 5,500 miles to the eastern tip of Chukotka, across the Bering Strait from Alaska. By contrast, it’s nearly 2,700 miles across the four time zones of the 48 contiguous states in the U.S.

Thus, when the Kremlin’s bell tower on Red Square tolls 9 a.m. at the start of the business day in Moscow, it’s already 6 p.m. in the farthest part of Russia’s Far East.

Russia’s vastness is a source of national pride, but it also hinders economic development, Medvedev said.

“The examples of other countries – the U.S., China – show that it is possible to cope with a smaller time difference,” Medvedev said in his annual state-of-the-nation speech. “We need to examine the possibility of reducing the number of time zones.”

Medvedev didn’t say how extensive any cut would be, but Vladivostok Economics University rector Gennady Lazarev told the RIA Novosti news agency it would likely mean shrinking to just four time zones: One each for Kaliningrad, Moscow, the Ural Mountains region and the vast reaches of Siberia and the Far East.

Less than a quarter of Russia’s 142 million people live east of the Urals – the boundary between Europe and Asia. Those huge areas constitute two-thirds of Russia.

Cutting down to four zones would likely mean reducing the seven-hour time difference between Moscow and Vladivostok to just four hours, Lazarev said. In that case, residents of the Pacific coast city would see the sunset before 3 p.m. at this time of year.

“I can’t fathom it,” said Lilia Shevtsova, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “It is potentially life-changing for some people, for the sake of convenience in Moscow.”

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