The Federation Council, the Russian parliament’s upper chamber, yesterday approved–by a vote of 103 to 29, with 9 abstentions–the Land Code passed last month by the State Duma, the lower chamber. The new code allows the sale of commercial and residential plots in cities and villages (2 percent of Russia’s land), but does not permit the sale of agricultural land. For the code to become law, it must be signed by the president. He is expected to do this within a week. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref hailed the Federation Council’s passage of the code, saying that the measure will cut down on shadow land sales by state bureaucrats and stimulate large-scale foreign investment in the Russian economy. Russia’s urban areas, he noted, already attract 75 percent of the country’s total investment. Gref also said he expected that the government would introduce legislation to allow the sale of agricultural land in about six months.
The sale of land has traditionally been strongly opposed by the Communists and their Agrarian allies, some of whose supporters picketed the Federation Council yesterday prior to the vote. Following the Land Code’s passage, Agrarian Party leader and State Duma deputy Mikhail Lapshin released a statement in which he accused those of his fellow parliamentarians who had voted for it of having rushed “without thought” to fulfil the government’s wishes. While repeating many of the accusations opponents made during parliamentary debate over the code earlier this year–including charges that the Duma, in passing the measure, had ignored the views of the thirty-five regional legislatures that opposed it and had not allowed enough time for amendments to be submitted–Lapshin added a new spin. The Land Code, he claimed, would open the way for “hundreds of thousands of refugees from Afghanistan” to purchase land plots in Russian cities and villages and legally migrate to Russia, and allow “millions of Chinese” to become “permanently rooted” in Russia’s Far East (Regions.ru, October 10). During debate in the Federation Council yesterday prior to the code’s passage, Gref stressed that a future presidential decree would list border areas in which foreigners would be banned from purchasing land, but added that the government saw no danger of large-scale land purchases by foreigners in other parts of Russia (Vremya Novostei, Moscow Times, October 11; NTV.ru, October 10; see also the Monitor, July 16).
RUSSIAN-JAPANESE RELATIONS: MIXED SIGNALS FROM TOKYO.