Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a controversial bill that allows the limited sale of non-agricultural land in Russia. Even though the bill affects only about 2 to 10 percent of all land, it is viewed as a historic break with the country's Communist past.
Despite charges he was betraying Mother Russia, President Putin on Friday approved a bill that overturns a ban on private ownership dating back to the early days of the Soviet Union.
Under the new law, anyone will be able to buy or sell land in Russia. However, there are restrictions, major restrictions. Agricultural land is not included in this law. The legislation applies primarily to urban land and effectively means that from now on people will be able to purchase the land under their factories or their homes.
Backers of the law say it will help attract foreign investment to Russia, since companies won't have to worry about whether they will be evicted from land they are already using. Under the law, foreigners will also have the right to own land, although, again, there will be restrictions. Foreigners will not be able to buy property near national borders.
Tom Adshead is a political analyst with the Moscow based Troika-Dialog investment bank. He says land reform is an undeniably important development for Russia, but he adds the law will have little real impact because many local laws already allow Russians to buy and sell land.
"The land code has huge symbolic importance because it's the first time that private ownership of land is enshrined in law and fully legal," says Mr. Adshead. "But it's only symbolic because, first, people have been buying and selling land already in Russia for the last two or three years so it doesn't really improve the situation any more than what's happening already, and it only applies to about two percent of Russia's total land."
Mr. Adshead points out that in many parts of the country Russians can buy property but are forced to go through a maze of laws that are different in every region. And since there has been no federal law allowing ownership of private property, their hold on the property has been tenuous.
Before landing on Mr. Putin's desk, the land reform legislation was approved by both houses of parliament with little opposition. But there was plenty of opposition outside the parliament building when the law was discussed. Hundreds of people protested the selling of something they believe belongs to all Russians.
The Communist Party and other opponents of the law say Russia's lands will now be taken over by criminals and foreigners.
Even during tsarist times, buying and selling land was extremely rare. Most peasants worked on collective farms, similar to those in the Soviet Union, and the only people who owned land were wealthy aristocrats.