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Time Zones Idea Confounds Scholars

Russians seem decidedly cool toward President Dmitry Medvedev's proposal to cut the number of time zones in the country from 11, made two weeks ago in his state-of-the-nation address.

Officials have heaped praise on the idea, but academics and bloggers are perplexed by what they call its apparent lack of rationale.

In the speech, Medvedev said reducing the number of time zones would increase economic efficiency, but he did not say how many zones might remain.

That has sparked a lively debate about how the proposal would be implemented and what benefits it could bring.

Nikolai Kasimov, dean of Moscow State University's geography department, summed up the "if-it-ain't-broke" position that seems to prevail.

"The world exists. It rotates. There are 24 time zones … and our country fits into that system," Kasimov said at a news conference Wednesday. "Let someone explain why we need to do this. … I don't understand it."

There are two main factors promoted as possible advantages: officials across the country would able to work in closer synchronization and money would be saved in better-coordinated energy and banking sectors.

But some people are skeptical. "This is the first time I have heard the economic argument," said Vyacheslav Baburin, a professor at the university's department of economic and social geography.

The main disadvantage is seen as more hours of darkness during the nine-to-five working day for Russians in the eastern stretches of the country. For many in the Far East, with the time brought forward, the sun would rise long before the start of the working day and would set before it ends.

"Science proved long ago that it is better physiologically to get up when the sun rises and sleep when it's dark," Rinad Minvaleyev, a physiologist at St. Petersburg State University, told the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper.

Many Internet users have opposed to the plan.

"The president will just create a new problem, as if we don't have enough problems," said one user, Anatoly Grachev, on the Kremlin's blog.

Another, Alexei Shcherbakov — from the far eastern region of Khabarovsk — asked: "What will this give to the simple residents of Russia who do not have any dealings with Moscow?"

But far eastern officials are in favor of a time shift.

Amur Governor Oleg Kozhemyako told Kommersant that local officials often have to stay up until 2 a.m. to work with colleagues in Moscow, and then report for work again at 9 a.m. the next morning. "It's mad," he complained.

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