The Duma, increasingly under the Kremlin’s control (see Russia’s Week, April 25, 2001), is moving smartly toward approval of two long-delayed reforms.

Despite fistfights on the floor and foam-flecked rhetoric from the Red minority (which refused to vote), a bill to allow the sale and purchase of land passed 251-22 in the 450-seat chamber. The bill needs two more votes in the Duma and a vote in the Federation Council before going to the president for signature, but final passage in something close to the present form seems assured. The bill as now written still exempts most farmland, and thus protects the political base of the Communists and Agrarians in the collective farms. Even so, it would greatly expand private property and private wealth–and in a form that cannot be spirited away to an offshore account.

A second vote in the Duma on a revised criminal code is scheduled for June 20, after this report was written. The bill would shift issuance of search and arrest warrants from prosecutors, who function as part of the executive branch, to courts and judges. The change if adopted would bring Russian practice closer to Western models. The Kremlin aide who gets most of the credit for drafting the bill and steering it through the Duma is Dmitry Kozak, once Vladimir Putin’s first choice for the post of prosecutor general. But Kozak ran into the buzz-saw of opposition from old cronies of Boris Yeltsin, and his name was pulled down. The man who got the job, Vladimir Ustinov, calls the reform “hasty.”