City and Region Spar Over Disputed Land

The Interior Ministry said Monday that it would investigate claims that Moscow city police had illegally entered a construction site outside their jurisdiction, as tensions flared in a territorial dispute between the capital and the surrounding region.

The long-running spat over land in the town of Shcherbinka, southwest of Moscow, boiled over during the weekend, with regional and capital officials trading accusations in what analysts said was part of Moscow's desire to expand its control over lucrative property near the Moscow Ring Road.

In an open letter to Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, Moscow region Deputy Governor Vasily Gromov on Friday said authorities in the capital had sold off housing intended for soldiers and that Moscow police had illegally been patrolling a construction site in Shcherbinka.

"If there were a contest for the best lying and playing with the facts, the authorities in the Moscow region would come in first place," Moscow city spokesman Sergei Tsoi said Saturday, Rosbalt news agency reported. "Every court case ... has found the land in Shcherbinka to be part of Moscow."

Gromov alleged that Moscow authorities had sold more than half of the 4,000 apartments on the disputed territory at commercial prices to nonmilitary buyers.

Moscow First Deputy Mayor Vladimir Resin also responded to Gromov's remarks Saturday, telling reporters that they were "provocative and deceitful," Interfax reported.

"All of the dwellings built in Shcherbinka were built for servicemen and given to them," he said.

Repeated calls to the Moscow city and regional governments for comment were not answered Monday.

The dispute dates back to the Soviet era, news agencies reported. In 1985, the territory was intended to house buildings for a technical school but was then handed over to Moscow under a legal classification that ceased to exist after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Gromov claims that because the concept of "administrative subordination" for property no longer exists, the ownership of the land must be redecided, Rosbalt reported

"Under Russian law, all territorial disputes ... must be considered by the relevant court," Interior Ministry spokesman Oleg Yelnikov said in a statement. "Regarding the case of Shcherbinka, the Interior Ministry will look into the request made by the Moscow region governor on the legality of the police officers' actions."

Analysts said the dispute was likely the result of the regional governments trying to protect local developers' interests along the Moscow Ring Road, or MKAD, which roughly outlines the border between them.

Shcherbinka lies just a few kilometers past the MKAD and well within the 100-kilometer ring of expensive property encircling Moscow.

"The land there would be really expensive. There is probably some personal interest boiling up the whole issue," said Alexei Yazykov, a real estate analyst at Renaissance Capital. "Someone probably already had plans for this land."