The Russian government Thursday gave its support to proposed legislation that will allow the private sale of farmland. But for many people in this formerly Communist country, the idea of private ownership of farmland is still unthinkable.

The legislation will meet heavy opposition when it goes to the parliament, but Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said it was absolutely vital to Russia.

Mr. Kasyanov described the sale of land as one of the most important issues in the country. He also added that despite the fact that it is not yet legal, farmland is still being bought and sold. It is simply being done outside the law.

Mr. Kasyanov said this has resulted in corruption. He said it is high time to remove all of the irregularities around the sale of farmland and create a clear and comprehensive law regulating it.

Most details of the plan were not made public Thursday, but it is known that foreigners will not be able to buy land near the borders of Russia.

The sale of farmland is a highly emotional issue in Russia. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian parliament has successfully fought off all attempts to allow farmland to be bought and sold.

Last October, President Vladimir Putin passed a law allowing for the sale of land in urban areas. But this law only affected less than 10 percent of all land in Russia.

If the Russian parliament approves the law on farmland sales, it will open up wide swathes of the country for sale.

And that is exactly what opponents of the law are afraid of. They say it will put Russia's farmland in the hands of foreigners. Supporters of the law say it will encourage foreign investment, which they say is vital to making Russia a free-market society.