Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 135

The State Duma went into summer recess on July 14, a day highlighted by an eleven-hour second reading of a new Land Code allowing Russians and foreigners to buy and sell commercial and residential plots in cities and villages–representing, according to the government, only 2 percent of the country’s total land. The code, which was passed late in the day by a vote of 253-152, with six abstentions, has essentially been given the green light by the Duma, given that a third reading is usually a formality. The bill must be approved by the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

The proposed legislation was strongly opposed by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) and their Agrarian allies. During the debate KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov called for a conciliatory commission to discuss to the bill, which he warned would create “a war for land that this country hasn’t seen for a long time.” Zyuganov’s initiative was rejected. Following the vote in favor of the bill, the Communist leader said that his faction and its allies would challenge the vote in Russia’s Constitutional Court. Zyuganov claimed that the Duma had violated various procedures in passing the measure: first, by neglecting the views of the thirty-five regional legislatures that had opposed it; second, by allowing twenty-nine days–not the required thirty–between the first and second readings; and, third, by not giving deputies enough time to submit amendments (Moscow Times, July 16).

During the debate, the Duma rejected an amendment proposed by Gennady Kulik, a former deputy prime minister and Agrarian leader who is now a member of the Fatherland-All Russia bloc, which would have prevented foreigners from purchasing land in areas along Russia’s borders. At the same time, the Land Code will not give foreigners the unrestricted right to purchase nonagricultural land. They can do so only if the land sits under a building or structure belonging to a foreign company or business, or if they plan to build something on the land. In addition, the government itself, including the Land Code’s main initiator, Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref, support similar restrictions on foreigners who purchase land along Russia’s borders. President Vladimir Putin will reportedly issue decrees establishing both border areas in which foreign firms will be permitted to buy land and “strategic” regions in which foreigners will be banned from such purchases. According to one report, Primorsky Krai, the Stavropol region and Kaliningrad Oblast are likely to be designated “strategic.” According to State Duma Deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin, however, foreigners will be able to get around such restrictions on land sales easily–by becoming co-owners of Russian companies (Moscow Times, Vremya Novostei, Polit.ru, July 16; Gazeta.ru, July 14).

Opponents of the Land Code did manage to push through one initiative. The Duma voted in favor of an amendment introduced by Nikolai Kharitonov, head of the Agrarian-Industrial bloc in the Duma, giving “social interests” priority over the rights of property holders in the regulation of land issues. Prior to the passage of Kharitonov’s amendment, Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky said that it and others proposed by the Agrarians were “dangerous” and undermined the goals of making procedures connected to the land use “open and understandable” and guaranteeing the rights of property holders (Russian agencies, July 14).