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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin's Land Reform Moves Russia Forward

The Russian attachment to land is so deep and visceral that efforts to sell off decaying collective farms unsettle even those who understand that the country would work far better with a private farming system. Many of the huge communal farms lie fallow, bankrupt remnants of a corrupt and clumsy system that was brutally engineered by Stalin more than 70 years ago.

Now President Vladimir Putin has pushed through important legislation that will allow the sale of farmland to Russian citizens or private companies.

Without such basic land reform, Russian agriculture would remain mired in its Soviet lethargy.

Putin's new law will undoubtedly create a maze of rules and a tangle of bureaucratic intrigues in the various outlying districts where powerful governors will control future property sales. But now that the parliament has finally approved it, billions of hectares will finally become available to Russian buyers.

Farm workers and their protectors in Moscow have managed to stall meaningful legalization of farmland sales until now, more than a decade after the end of the Soviet state. Commercial sale of land in urban areas was approved last year. And in some outlying regions, district governments have offered a gray market in agricultural properties.

Even those makeshift local sales have already helped bring vast improvements in technology and production to those few commercial farming ventures. What has been missing is a national law that can give these and future land deals legitimacy.

There have always been hazards to land reform and Putin's reform is no exception. Many workers who remain on the collectives are old, feeble or simply needy. Putin's farmland policies will fare better if government agents carrying out the sales are mindful of the welfare of such workers. There is also concern that all this rich farmland will foster more corruption or entice new oligarchs like those who bought up the country's other riches as the economy changed a decade ago.

Putin will have to watch for such lapses. Moreover, he may have been listening to these complaints in recent weeks. He endorsed amendments to the law that will bar foreigners from purchasing Russian farms and authorize local districts to limit the size of tracts to be sold to any one owner.

As the market matures those restrictions should fall away, but they can be excused for now as the political give necessary to enable one of the most important economic reforms since the end of the Soviet state.

This comment appeared as an editorial in The New York Times.