Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law that permits the sale and private ownership of farmland in Russia for the first time since the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.

Farmland in the world's largest country is soon to be up for sale under terms of the new land reform law signed by President Putin.

The law, part of the president's push to liberalize the Russian economy, takes effect for Russian citizens and private Russian companies early next year. It opens to the Russian market more than 400 million hectares of farmland, or about 24 percent of the country's total land mass.

A political analyst with the Moscow-based Troika Dialogue investment firm, Tom Adshead, said the law is nothing less than historic. "Go back into Russian history and that's basically at the core of every fight that a reformist czar, or a conservative czar, has been fighting. It all comes down to privatization of land. And it's amazing how quickly it has all been dismantled in the last ten years. It is a huge leap forward," Mr. Adshead said.

In a limitation won by conservative lawmakers and local officials, non-Russians are barred from buying land. However, they can lease it. The conservatives are concerned that Russia's best agricultural land would be bought by wealthy foreigners.

Analyst Adshead said the fear was never likely to be realized, with our without the new legislation. More likely, he said, the new law will provide a much-needed boost to Russia's struggling local farmers.

"This law will probably help small farmers who want to buy more land or equipment to become more efficient because they'll be able to mortgage their existing land, which maybe they got from privatization, in order to expand. But it's a slow process," he said.

Russia's farmland is estimated to be worth $80 to 100 trillion. But much of it is controlled by debt-laden collective farms that have advanced little since the Soviet era.

Experts, like Mr. Adshead, believe that could soon change with the signing of what some are calling one of the most important economic reforms since the collapse of the Soviet Union.