By Marina Romanova
In an attempt to boost the population and economy of the largely undeveloped regions,Vladimir Putin has ordered free land handouts in Russia’s Far East and Siberia. Last week he signed a law offering land plots to Russians and foreigners for free if they are willing move to the country’s remote Far Eastern and Siberian regions.
Under the deal, all citizens can apply for a hectare of land (2.5 acres) – about the size of a football pitch – in a vast stretch of territory spanning the upper Arctic reaches near Alaska, down to islands off the coast of Japan and south to the Chinese border.
The areas covered by the scheme include Russia’s Far Eastern Federal District, which comprise of nine federal regions with a total area of over 6,169 million square kilometers (3.9 million square miles). Namely the Kamchatka, Primorye, Khabarovsk, Amur, Magadan and Sakhalin regions, the Republic of Sakha Yakutiya and the Jewish and Chukotka autonomous districts.
Yet the Far Eastern Federal District’s vast swathe of the territory barely holds 4,23 percent — 6.194 million — of Russia’s 143 million citizens. The population has been in decline ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, dropping by 14 percent in the last fifteen years. The population density currently stands at three people per square kilometer.
Originally, the scheme was limited to Russian nationals only, but the new version of the bill has extended this right to carefully-screened non-Russians as well. After five years, the foreign nationals will be able to apply for naturalization as Russian citizens, and then acquire full property rights to the land they have been working.
According to a Russian press, the plots of land will be handed over to Russians and foreigners who want to use and develop it lawfully for five years, i.e. build homes or start businesses in agriculture or tourism. Those interested in the venture can hold their hectare free of payment and tax for five years. After that period, they can rent, sell or give it away. Although the law require three times longer period of lawful use – 15 years – for forest land before it can became one’s property.
According to the new bill, from June 1, 2016 onward all residents of 9 “pilot” regions of the Far East and Siberia could claim their hectare of land. From October 1, 2016 – all other residents of the Far Eastern Federal District can apply for the land plots. From February 1, 2017 – the rest of Russians as well as foreigners can start their ‘hunt’ for land. The new law doesn’t apply to Russia’s aboriginal peoples lands located in the region.
As new law states, after the grace 5 years period, land that has not been used for some purpose will be returned to the government. Families are also encouraged to apply –– a household of five will receive over 12 acres of land.
Everyone interested will be able to choose plots remotely from an online map, created by the Ministry of Far Eastern Development.
“We view this project as a possibility for Russian citizens to achieve self-realization in our Far East and for attracting people to the region,” said Alexander Galushka, Minister in charge of development in the Far East. Still, there’s profound skepticism about the likelihood of such an eastward migration.
While Russian press obediently explicate an official version of the program, “as one of the initiatives aimed at boosting the economy in the remote regions of the country,” international observers speculates of ‘immediate concerns’ of rather geopolitical nature of the law, which according to Russian officials, could increase the population in the Far Eastern Federal District to 36 million people.
According to Reuters, Chinese firms already lease or control at least 600,000 hectares of land in the Far East, which is equivalent to the size of a small U.S. state like Delaware.
“Just across the frigid border with China, there’s a booming population of more than 100 million people in the northeast of that country”, writes the Washington Post.
There is no need for Chinese to reside in Russia, due to “the land is already providing China, ‘the factory of the world,’ with much of its raw materials, especially oil, gas and timber”, the New York Times speculates.”Increasingly, Chinese-owned factories in Siberia churn out finished goods, as if the region already were a part of the Middle Kingdom’s economy.”
“It is no longer necessarily the fears that the Russians are going to be swamped by gazillions of Chinese,” said Bobo Lo, associate fellow at London’s Chatham House and an expert in Sino-Russian relations. “Now it is slightly different, and more that the Chinese are a rising economic power, that part of Russia is struggling and China will inexorably take over.”
“But its not all bad news for adventurous house-hunters,” reasons www.express.co.uk. “The Far East of Russia is famed for its stunning natural beauty, with hundreds of miles of rolling hills, grass plains and soaring mountain ranges. Known as the land where ice meets fire, settlers can look forward to hiking the snow-covered slopes of active volcano’s or relaxing in hot springs.”