What time is it? Russia's Medvedev resists change

February 7, 2013 - 9:31 AM
CORRECTION Russia Time Change

CORRECTING LEFT / RIGHT - FILE- In this Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011 file photo, then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, and then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, left, synchronize their watches during a United Russia party congress in Moscow. Medvedev is reported Thursday Feb. 7, 2013, that he intends to fix Russia permanently on Summer Time, with no immediate intention of reversing his previous decision. Medvedev ruled in 2011 that Russia would remain permanently fixed on Summer Time, but the rule has proved widely unpopular and President Putin has indicated that he may reverse the decision.(AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Yekaterina Shtukina, Presidential Press Service, File)

MOSCOW (AP) — When will the sun come up today? In Russia, it's a matter of fierce debate, and one that may reflect the sinking stature of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Medvedev declared Thursday that he has no immediate intention of reversing his decision to leave Russia's clocks on summer time the whole year.

The move he made in 2011 when he was president has been widely unpopular as it has plunged the sprawling nation into darkness until late morning throughout the winter.

And now it's not clear how long that decree will actually last.

Medvedev's mentor, Vladimir Putin, who returned to the presidency in May after spending four years in the premier's seat due to term limits, has indicated that Russia could switch back the time soon.

Putin said in December that sticking permanently to summer time would make it difficult for TV audiences in Europe to watch the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The games — on track to be the most expensive Olympics ever, even more than the Summer Games in London and Beijing — are known to be close to Putin's heart.

On Thursday, the daily Izvestia newspaper that kowtows to Putin said the Cabinet already had made the decision to switch Russia permanently to winter time and that a decree will be issued soon.

The government quickly denied the report, and then Medvedev himself told a Cabinet session that he sees no point in switching the clock now.

"The government considers it unfeasible to again switch time at the current moment," Medvedev said, adding that public opinion has been divided. "Let's not make sharp movements and live in those conditions without making extra fuss. Let's keep monitoring the situation and once again analyze the opinion of experts, doctors and citizens."

The switch to summer time is one of the few of Medvedev's reforms that has survived Putin's return to the presidency.

Since Putin came back, most of Medvedev's initiatives — from decriminalizing slander to ousting government officials from the boards of state-controlled companies — have been methodically reversed.

Putin's harsh course has contrasted sharply with Medvedev's modernization platform. The president has backed a series of repressive bills that introduced heavy fines for those joining unsanctioned protests and imposed new tough restrictions on groups promoting democratic rights.

Opposition activists have faced searches, interrogations and arrests and three members of the Pussy Riot punk band have been sentenced to two years in prison for an anti-Putin protest in Moscow's main cathedral.

Medvedev has avoided confronting Putin and defended his patron's new tough course, but is appearing increasingly cornered and powerless despite his show of loyalty.

State-controlled television stations have reduced their coverage of his activities, and a newspaper report recently claimed that the networks had received orders from the Kremlin to cast him in a negative light and focus on his unpopular decisions, such as the time change.

The Izvestia newspaper has recently published leaks from official documents critical of the performance of Medvedev's Cabinet, prompting an angry rebuke from his office.

On Thursday, it posted a December's letter by Jean-Claude Killy, head of the International Olympic Committee's coordination panel for Sochi, suggesting that the IOC would welcome Russia's switching back to the winter time but warning that such a decision need to be made soon.

But Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who was in Sochi for Thursday's one-year countdown to the games, told reporters the government has made the decision to stick to summer time and a schedule for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi has been made accordingly.