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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin: No Land Sales to Foreigners

President Vladimir Putin spoke out Wednesday against giving foreigners legal permission to purchase farmland now but said the government might change its mind later.

"I share and understand the concerns voiced by those who propose not to rush to give foreigners the right to purchase land," Putin said in a speech before the Russian Chamber of Commerce. "There is no direct economic necessity for that. It does not look like there are many people willing to buy land in Russia."

Last month, the State Duma gave tentative approval to a government-sponsored bill that would allow the sale of farmland for the first time since it was nationalized following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The bill has to go through two more readings in the Duma and must also be approved by the upper house and signed by Putin to become law.

The original version of the bill left it up to local authorities to decide whether foreigners could buy most farmland but barred foreigners from buying farmland in border areas. However, many lawmakers and local officials voiced strong fears that the bill would allow foreigners to snap up Russia's best agricultural land.

"The issue of the purchase of land by foreign citizens and legal entities causes the sharpest discussion," Putin said. "The discussions have shown that we must take a well-balanced, accurate and extremely careful approach to solving the issue."

His comments signaled support for a draft amendment on land sales, supported by four centrist factions, which will be introduced in the Duma on Friday. The amendment would bar foreigners from buying or selling farmland, allowing them only to lease it for 49 years, according to Interfax.

Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev has put the value of farmland across Russia at $80 trillion to $100 trillion, a large share of the nation's collective wealth, which is estimated at $300 trillion to $350 trillion.

Most Russian agricultural land is controlled by collective farms, where the structure and production technology have changed little since the Soviet era.

Reform supporters have long said that the heavily subsidized agriculture sector needs streamlining to make more effective use of the land, and Putin has strongly pushed for allowing the sale of farmland seen as crucial for Russia's economic growth.

The 1993 Constitution allows land sales, but the Communists and other hard-liners who controlled the previous parliament thwarted all attempts to introduce legislation needed to put the provision into force. Last year the new parliament passed the Kremlin's Land Code, which permitted limited land sales but did not address the specific issue of farmland.