Putin and Medvedev squabble over what time it is

The most dramatic legacy of Dmitry Medvedev's presidency may have been his impact on Russia's clocks. In addition to dropping 2 of the country's 11 time zones, Medvedev also eliminated daylight savings time.

The move was never popular and current President Vladimir Putin has suggested changing it, but Medvedev is apparently digging in his heels. Bloomberg reports

“There is no clear conclusion about this issue, and this is proved by surveys,” Medvedev told a televised Cabinet meeting today. “That’s why the government believes that changing the system at the current time is not a good idea.”

Izvestia, a newspaper owned by Putin ally Yury Kovalchuk, reported earlier that an announcement would be made soon to switch permanently to winter time by turning the clocks back an hour. Putin said in December that Medvedev’s time switch bothered him and had been criticized by international sporting bodies for increasing the time difference in winter with London to four hours and with major European cities to three hours. Russia will host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

Medvedev's decision was meant to benefit farmers, but as Masha Gessen explained a few months ago, the rollout didn't go so smoothly: 

The problem is, Medvedev stopped the clock in early autumn, while the country was still on summer time, or daylight saving time. That froze it one hour ahead of Russia’s standard time, which, in turn, in much of the country was an hour ahead of its astronomical time. So last winter the sun began rising after 9 a.m.; adults were already at work and children at school by the time daylight established itself. And it was dark when they left their respective buildings, not having seen the light all day.

Then there was the issue of electronics. Apple’s operating systems, for one, never recognized Russia’s new time. The publishing house where I worked kept all its Apple computers set back an hour otherwise they could not be synchronized with the server. To reflect Medvedev time, Muscovites had to set their smartphones to Baku or Yerevan  time zones — a politically uncomfortable gesture for some.

When antigovernment protests broke out in December, some of the participants carried signs demanding that winter time be brought back. As the dark winter dragged on, doctors and medical writers increasingly sounded the alarm on the risks of doing violence to the body’s quotidian clock. Medvedev’s decision came to symbolize Russian government work in general: ill-considered, dismissive of people’s needs and, ultimately, both pointless and dangerous. 

Government imposed time changes can be politically fraught. As I wrote recently for Smithsonian, when the U.S. adopted a national in the late 19th century -- under pressure from railroads, who had been the first to adopt nationwide time -- local governments objected to be forced to change their clocks. “Let the people of Cincinnati stick to the truth as it is written by the sun, moon and stars,” one newspaper wrote.

More recently, Hugo Chavez moved Venezuela half an hour off the rest of the world's time zones in 2007, but initially provoked widespread confusion as to whether he was moving the clocks forward or backward. 

In Medvedev's case, an analyst quoted by Bloomberg says the keeping the time change in place is could be "psychologically crucial" for him as its one of the few tangible legacies of his presidency.



Drone-free Virginia?

While the debate over the use of drones overseas plays out in Washington, some groups in the U.S. are pushing for action on the local level. On Monday, the city of Charlotteville, VA became the first municipality in the country to pass legislation restricting the use of drones:

The resolution means that Charlottesville will be a no-drone zone and the use of drones for surveillance and other uses will not be allowed.

The law is based on model legislation prepared by the Rutherford Institute, a libertarian group based in the city. According to the Institute's website, the law places a 2-year moratorium on the use of drones in the city limits and "urges the Virginia General Assembly to prevent police agencies from utilizing drones outfitted with anti-personnel devices such as tasers and tear gas and prohibit the government from using data recorded via police spy drones in criminal prosecutions."

They didn't have long to wait. On Tuesday, the Virginia legislature passed a bill that would bar state and local agencies from using drones for two years. Governor and rising GOP star Bob McDonell, who has supported the use of drones by law enforcement in the past, has not yet decided whether he will sign the bill.

The obvious comparison here is to the "nuclear-free zone" ordinances passed by many left-leaning cities, including my old town of Oberlin, Ohio during the 1980s. The success of these was pretty mixed -- Berkeley's law, for instance, has done nothing to stop the nuclear research going on at the university in the city but has been criticized by some for putting onerous restrictions the city government's purchasing decisions.

Unlike nukes, of course, it's not hard to imagine applications for drones at a local level. The Virgina laws may be a prelude of political disputes to come. And in a state with stark political divisions, drone concerns also appear to be remarkably bipartisan.

Xavier ROSSI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images