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Russia cuts time zones to 9 on Sunday

By Maxim Tkachenko, CNN
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Russia losing two time zones
  • Russia is cutting the number of its time zones from 11 to 9 starting Sunday
  • Russia is studying whether to abolish daylight savings time in 2011
  • President: Move will "resolve a number of transport and communications issues"

Moscow (CNN) -- The world's largest country by land mass is challenging time: This weekend, Russia is cutting the number of its time zones from 11 to 9.

"The less fractional division of the country will enable us to resolve a number of transport and communications issues, will increase its manageability and strengthen the position of Russia as an important chain in the world's global infrastructure," President Dmitry Medvedev said at a special Kremlin meeting devoted to the issues of time change.

Technically speaking, five Russian regions -- two in European Russia and three in Siberia -- will not join the rest of the country in moving the clock one hour forward to daylight saving time at 2 a.m. Sunday, thus coming a little closer to Moscow.

Aman Tuleyev, governor of the Siberian coal-mining region of Kemerovo, which will undergo a time zone change, said at the Kremlin meeting that the existing time zone span doesn't make a lot of sense.

"You travel just a 100 miles to any neighboring city in our area and need to switch your watch one hour back, then move it one hour forward again upon return. This has been creating needless confusion for both businesses and regular people," he said.

Some local governments of the regions where the time zone change will take place have been lobbying in favor of this measure for years, and overwhelmingly supported the proposed federal initiative.

But not everybody is happy.

Video: Cost of daylight-saving

In Samara, the closest region to Moscow to experience a time zone change, a series of modest-size protests took place against what activists called a darker future. With the new time, they'll see sunset one hour earlier, which they fear will result in higher electricity bills for the population and translate into a rise in street crime.

"In winter, school kids would be walking back home in darkness, while we adults would barely see any sunlight after we finish work," one activist told CNN by phone.

Last November, in his annual State of the Nation address, the Russian president proposed an even more radical reform. He suggested not only to cut the number of time zones in Russia but also abolish the current switch to daylight saving time, which the country has been doing since 1981.

Throughout this year, government officials and scientists will closely examine the consequences of the time reform in the five Russian regions, and a further reduction of time zones in Russia might take place in the future if the experiment proves positive, according to Medvedev.

The president also called upon experts to finalize their studies on the possible effects of abolishing the daylight saving time in Russia by February 2011.

"Many Russian citizens are not happy about those times switches," he said. "Nobody has ever told me it's a good thing and that they feel better. But we must take into account all factors involved," he said.

According to Russia's energy officials, the abolition of the daylight saving time would increase the country's energy consumption by 4.5 billion kWatt/hour which translates to about $85 million of extra spending.

The number of suicide attempts (after a time change) grows by 60 percent
--Scientist Sergei Kravchenko
  • Russia

But chief Kremlin economist Arkady Dvorkovich told Russian media it's false economy. The measure would increase energy consumption by only 1-3 percent, but the negative effects of the time switch are far worse, he said.

"The energy advantages are negligible," he said, "but the health of the people and their stable biological rhythms is a much more important factor."

Many experts argue that time changes expose people to additional stress which leads to more industrial and road accidents, as well as health problems for people with chronic diseases.

Daylight Saving Time may bring health problems

"Reports say that in the first 5 days after a time change the number of ambulance calls of patients with blood hypertension and cardiac infarction cases increases by 11 percent. And the number of suicide attempts in those days grows by 60 percent, " scientist Sergei Kravchenko told a popular Russian weekly.

Agriculture is also an industry that is negatively affected: Farm animals are used to being fed and milked at the same time and suffer when people change current time twice a year.

The general public is mostly welcoming the time reforms in Russia.

"It would indeed be great if they abolished the daylight saving time," one blogger said. "What kind of energy economy are you talking about? Major factories are working around the clock anyway. As for citizens, they pay their own electricity bills and want the government to leave them alone and not to stick its nose into their purses."