MOSCOW -- A government that is straining to provide its people with decent food and comfortable housing has at last hit upon one precious commodity it can lavish on a long-suffering population: light.
Russia has decided to give its sunshine-starved people a double dose of daylight-saving time this year. Early tomorrow morning, clocks will advance one hour. The last Sunday in March, they'll jump ahead one more hour.
Russian leaders say they'll save 3.5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity with the change -- and more than 700,000 tons of heating oil that would have generated that much power -- which will aid the strapped economy.
Part of the reason for the change can be traced to, and blamed on, Josef V. Stalin, during whose rule Russia first began playing the yearly clock game. Things didn't go quite right then, but nobody realized it until last year when a timekeeper pointed out that Moscow's clocks were three hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time while the city was only two time zones away from Greenwich.
The official explanation was that in the 1930s, someone forgot to remind Stalin to change back from daylight-saving to standard time one fall. The next spring, the nation added the traditional hour again, inadvertently putting it three hours ahead of Greenwich instead of two.
After the flaw was discovered, the Russians fell back an hour last spring, and no one has been happy since.
In this land of winter darkness, the loss of an hour of daylight in the afternoon was keenly felt indeed. Life gears up here a little later than in the West. People would rather put up with more darkness in the morning than in the afternoon.
In December, it was getting light about 7:30 a.m. and dark at 3 p.m. Now that the days are getting a little longer, that is stretching to about 3:30 p.m.
The change now will mean the sun won't set until 4:30 p.m.
The new time will make some people happy, but not everyone. Other republics in the former Soviet Union are keeping their own time. They predict chaos in train and plane schedules.