What's Behind Proposed Ukrainian Land Sale?

PRIME MINISTER SURPRISES COUNTRY BY PROPOSING AUCTION OF STATE LAND; EXPERTS, RIVAL POLITICIANS SPECULATE THAT OLIGARCHS ‘SAVED' YATSENYUK TO PUSH THIS UNPOPULAR MEASURE FOR THEIR BENEFIT

YATSENYUK MAKES RISKY MOVE. (By Tatyana Ivzhenko. Nezavisimaya gazeta, March 1, 2016, p. 1. Condensed text:) Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk proposed to sell one-tenth of state-owned land at public auction. That statement, made Sunday evening [Feb. 28] during the cabinet leader's customary [10-minute televised] address to the people, has stirred up a political storm. Yatsenyuk's opponents suspect that the purpose behind the [alleged] conspiracy that prevented the Supreme Rada from dismissing the cabinet [see Current Digest, Vol. 68, No. 7, pp 7-10]] was to sell off Ukrainian land.

The land issue has troubled Ukraine for two decades. Land holdings are owned by [private] citizens who acquired land shares in the late 1990s, as well as by the state. According to the [Ukrainian] State Land Agency, state holdings amount to 10.5 million hectares. Last year, 1.6 million hectares were inventoried.

Farming enterprises work the land of private owners under long-term leases. As for state holdings, the situation is not clear: Research by journalists shows that roughly half of that land has in effect been taken over by businesses with ties to either oligarchs or government officials. However, there is no land market in Ukraine: For more than 15 years now, the Rada has regularly extended a legal moratorium on the purchase and sale of land. Every branch of government claims that the time for selling [land] has not come, and that preparations need to be made to set up a market.

In 2012, the moratorium was extended to January 2016. Six months before it was due to expire, the Ukrainian authorities remembered that they needed to make some sort of decision. The discussion was initiated by [Ukrainian President] Pyotr Poroshenko in spring 2015. In the ...

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