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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Senators Cast Vote On Sale Of Land

Land sales should be legalized by next week. But the actual buying and selling of land may take quite a bit longer.

If all goes as expected, the Federation Council will approve the long-debated Land Code on Wednesday, and within a week President Vladimir Putin will sign into law the legislation allowing the sale of land in cities and villages across the country.

"I think that the code will be passed without major problems," Mordovia Governor Nikolai Merkushkin, who will vote on the code at the Federation Council, said at a news conference Monday. "We only need to clearly specify limitations on sales."

"We should not delay with the passing of the Land Code," Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel said in televised remarks Sunday. "The faster we do it, the better."

The Land Code, which sailed through the State Duma in a final reading Sept. 20, allows the sale of 2 percent of the country's 1.7 billion hectares of land. Only 130 Communists and Agrarians in the 450-seat Duma rejected the legislation.

In addition to municipal land, the code permits the sale of land under private homes and dachas. The sale of farm land is to be dealt with in a separate law, which the government has promised to send to parliament by the end of the year.

President Vladimir Putin has fiercely backed the Land Code as a way to boost the economy and improve the investment climate.

Putin on Tuesday, however, urged that care be taken in implementing land sales, saying the shift to private ownership must be "very cautious and done as government agencies and legislation become stronger."

"We must not hurry. We must do everything tidily, step by step and give more rights to regional leaders," Putin said at a meeting of regional agriculture officials in Orenburg. "They sit on land and they are not dumber than the rest of us."

Calling for a set of rules to be drawn up on implementing the Land Code, Putin warned about the potential dangers of unlimited sales.

"I understand that if land was your own property, you would invest money into it," he said. "But we must take into account social problems. The first way an owner decides to increase efficiency and cut costs is to lay off workers. We must think of how many people will be let go and where they will go."

The code forbids foreigners from buying land in areas close to federal borders -- areas that are to be defined by a special decree -- but otherwise treats foreign companies and individuals the same as Russians.

Among the biggest supporters of the code in the Federation Council are Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov, who has overseen the sale of municipal and farm land in his region for several years, Samara Governor Vladimir Titov and Rossel.

"It is clear populism when someone shouts that land is our Fatherland because if we sell land, say, in the Sverdlovsk region [to a foreigner] it can't be transported to America or England. No one would put it in a sack and leave," Rossel said on RTR television Sunday.

"This opinions that someone rich from abroad will buy our land and our peasants will become mere slaves are just fantasies," Ayatskov said in an interview last weekend. "Peasants are already slaves, earning kopeks."

"Owners work more effectively," he said. "Look, we had a severe drought this year and farmers who own land still got up to 600 kilograms of grain per hectare, while state farms got only 350 kilograms."

The Land Code is getting support from numerous individuals and organizations as well. Poet Bella Akhmadullina, musician Nikolai Petrov, several political parties without seats in the Duma and even the All-Russia Union of Deaf People sent appeals to the Federation Council this summer to pass the legislation.

"We appeal to you, respected members of the Federation Council, to reveal the state wisdom and to vote for the quickest establishment in Russia of the civilized system of dealing with land," one appeal said.

The Movement of Rural Women, with representatives in regions such as Pskov, Oryol, Stavropol and Krasnodar, also wrote a letter to the Federation Council, declaring, "Land needs a master whose rights won't be based on the whim of a bureaucrat but on a law."

Critics abound, too, and not only from Communists and their supporters. Khapisat Gamzatova, Duma deputy from Dagestan, warned this summer that land sales would worsen an already tense situation in the southern republic. Dagestan borders Chechnya.

But last week a group of Dagestani farmers urged the Federation Council to pass the Land Code.

"Uncertainty in land issues is slowing down production," the farmers said in an appeal carried by Interfax. "We want private ownership of land to be introduced, and we want to see clear mechanisms of its implementation."

"It is clear that the code will be approved," said Yury Korgunyuk, analyst with the INDEM think tank. "The majority of the regions get donations from the state budget, and if they don't do what the government tells them, the cash tap could be easily turned off."

"Yet a year ago the Federation Council could have resisted the government," Korgunyuk said, speaking of the upper chamber before Putin weakened its powers by reshuffling its composition. "But now that the president has brought it down on its knees, regional leaders are unable to get together in, say, a smoking room, make a collective decision and stick to it."

Despite the certainty that the code will be approved, some Federation Council members have suggested it could be held up.

"Actually, the council has two main opinions on the Land Code -- to pass it and not to pass it," Mikhail Odintsov, deputy head of the Federation Council's agrarian committee, said recently on NTV. "There are also those who want to approve it in November or to pass it over to a conciliatory commission to think and work on it more."

"The biggest problem is that most of those who oppose the code -- well, the supporters too -- have never read it while de facto the code is a not bad and a balanced document," Odintsov said.