AT WHAT time the sun comes up has again become a matter of fierce debate in Russia – and one that may reflect the sinking stature of prime minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Mr Medvedev declared yesterday that he had 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 huge nation into darkness until late morning throughout the winter.
And now it is not clear how long that decree will actually last.
Mr Medvedev’s mentor, Vladimir Putin, who returned to the presidency last May after spending four years in the prime minister’s seat due to term limits, has hinted that Russia could switch back the time soon. He said in December that sticking permanently to summer time would make it difficult for television audiences in Europe to watch his beloved 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Yesterday, the daily newspaper Izvestia, which slavishly follows Mr Putin, said the cabinet already had made the decision to switch Russia permanently to winter time and that a decree would be issued soon.
The government quickly denied the report, and then Mr Medvedev himself told a cabinet session that he saw no point in switching the clock now.
“The government considers it unfeasible to again switch time at the current moment,” Mr Medvedev said, while adding that public opinion had been divided.
“Let’s not make sharp movements and live in those conditions without making extra fuss,” he said. “Let’s keep monitoring the situation and once again analyse the opinion of experts, doctors and citizens.”
The switch to summer time is one of the few Medvedev reforms that has survived Mr Putin’s return to the presidency.
Since his return, most of Mr Medvedev’s initiatives – from decriminalising slander to removing government officials from the boards of state-controlled companies – have been methodically reversed.
Mr Putin’s harsh course has contrasted sharply with his predecessor’s modernisation platform. The new president has backed a series of repressive bills that introduced heavy fines for those joining unsanctioned protests and imposed tough restrictions on groups promoting democratic rights.
Opposition activists have faced searches, interrogations and arrests, while three members of the Pussy Riot punk band were sentenced to two years in prison for an anti-Putin protest in Moscow’s main cathedral.
Mr Medvedev has avoided confronting Mr Putin and defended his patron’s new tough course, but he 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.
Izvestia has recently published leaks from official documents critical of the performance of Mr Medvedev’s cabinet, prompting an angry rebuke from his office.
Yesterday, the newspaper posted a December letter by Jean-Claude Killy, head of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) co-ordination panel for Sochi, suggesting that the IOC would welcome Russia switching back to the winter time but warning that such a decision had to be made soon.
However, Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak, who was in Sochi for yesterday’s one-year countdown to the Games, told reporters the government had made the decision to stick to summer time and a schedule for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi had been made accordingly.