Putin's land law finally ends Bolshevik revolution

  • 2002-08-01
  • Agence France-Presse, MOSCOW
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a historic bill allowing the sale and private ownership of agricultural land for the first time since the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

Despite bitter opposition by the Communists, the landmark reform was voted through by the State Duma's Lower House at the end of June and ratified by the Federation Council's Upper House earlier this month.

The law, which concerns 406 million hectares, or 24 percent of Russian territory, is considered vital for the development of agriculture, which has largely faded into decrepitude since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Private farmers own just 6 percent of agricultural land in Russia but account for more than 40 percent of production.

However, the agriculture land law bans foreigners from buying Russian farmland, allowing them only to lease it for up to 49 years.

Putin has backed the ban on foreign ownership, widely seen as a concession to Communists and their nationalist allies who still oppose sale of land for commercial use.

Russia's 1993 constitution allows for private land ownership but the Communists have so far torpedoed all legislation setting up a legal mechanism for the transfer of property from state to private hands.

Putin's government has already rammed through Parlia-ment a measure that established private ownership of land on which property sits.

But that measure applies almost exclusively to cities, while the country's vast agricultural sector — which has seen little investment since the collapse of the Soviet Union — remains in state hands.

Western investors in Russia have been disappointed by the Duma decision, arguing that sales to foreigners could only revitalize a sector that has struggled for several decades.