Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

City Seeks To Seize Back Land

The Moscow government hopes to seize control of 6,000 hectares of privatized land from thousands of suburban owners to build upscale housing developments in cooperation with private firms, city officials said Monday.

The city government plans to take legal action against officials of the administrative region surrounding the capital, for allegedly violating a January 1992 presidential decree ordering them to give Moscow the land, much of which has instead been privatized, according to Vasily Pyatibrat, head of Moscow's construction department. Regional officials say recent privatization laws have invalidated the decree and prevent them from forcing landowners to go along with the city's plan.

Oleg Lepke, who is in charge of land use for the Moscow region, said: "The region administration no longer has anything to do with the distribution of land. We don't have that right."

The dispute illustrates the rift between Moscow -- where the city government largely retains control over property as in the Soviet era -- and national privatization officials, who want to let the market determine land use.

Expressing Moscow's lingering preference for central planning even outside its own jurisdiction, Pyatibrat said: "Ivan Ivanovich acquires land and builds his own cottage, but all around it everything stays the same -- there are no new roads, no new infrastructure. He builds his own individual house to the detriment of the region."

The city, according to Pyatibrat, envisions 10,000 summer houses and single-family homes in complexes complete with Moscow-funded infrastructure: new roads and new electricity, plumbing, gas and heating networks. But at 50 to 100 million rubles ($32,000-$64,000) each, these houses are not for the typical Ivan Ivanovich.

Under the city plan, the city government would put 40 percent of the houses to be built on the market, and distribute 5 percent free to Muscovites. The region would give out 5 percent, and 50 percent would belong to the city's private partners, which include the firms Alpha, Miks and Pilot-2, Pyatibrat said.

But privatization, he said, means that "now we would have to go to each Ivan Ivanovich and convince him to participate."

That, said Lepke, is what Moscow will have to do.

"Now they are property owners," he said of the residents, who are mainly former state farm workers. "They have the right to sell it, to buy it, to exchange it, to pawn it.

"Moscow wants reallocation, but all they can do is buy it -- just as people do all over the world," he said.

The conflict comes hard on the heels of last week's public spat in which Mayor Yury Luzhkov criticized what he labeled hasty and "absurd" privatization after Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais called Moscow's privatization record the worst in Russia.