MOSCOW – Russia's president thought the country had too much time on its hands, so on Sunday he eliminated two of its 11 time zones.
The changes mean that Chukotka — Russia's eastern extreme, just across the Bering Strait from Alaska — is now nine hours ahead of Russia's westernmost area, the Kaliningrad exclave sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. Formerly, there was 10 hours' difference.
As well as eliminating the time zone that previously covered the Chukotka and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky regions in the Pacific Far East, President Dmitry Medvedev ordered that Samara and Udmurtia, two regions in central Russia, should be on the same time as Moscow.
The changes went into effect before dawn Sunday when most of Russia switched to daylight savings time. People in the eliminated time zones didn't move their clocks an hour ahead.
Medvedev initiated the change in his state of the nation address last November, prompting some criticism that he was addressing marginal issues at the expense of the country's array of problems.
But Medvedev said the change would help some far-flung regions have more efficient communications with the central authorities, ease travel and even improve the country's international position.
"It's possible that this could also aid the strengthening of Russia's position as a link in the global information infrastructure," he said at a meeting this month with ministers and regional leaders.
But some people in the affected regions believe Medvedev should have been doing something else with his time.
An online petition opposing the Samara region's change gathered nearly 13,000 signatures. It acidly dismissed the argument that the move would make travel easier.
"Trips take place to many regions of the country and world where time, you understand, far from always corresponds with Moscow," the text said. It also complained that moving Samara to a new time zone would make it a disorienting two hours behind its eastern neighbors and that sunset would be painfully early in the winter.
"In the winter, darkness will come almost at lunchtime, which isn't convenient and is psychologically quite hard," the petition said.
But more manipulation of time zones appears likely.
The state news agency ITAR-Tass on Sunday quoted Arkady Tishkov, a Russian Academy of Sciences geographer studying further time reforms, as saying that Kaliningrad could also be put in Moscow time — making it an hour ahead of all its neighbors — and all of the vast Yakutsk region, which now has three time zones, could have a single clock.