A draft law would offer Russians free plots of Arctic land

The pending legislation comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin pushes to make development in the region a priority.

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A truck drives along a road in a October 21, 2019 file photo, with the snow-covered Khibiny Mountains on the Kola Peninsula in Russia’s Murmansk region in the background. (Maxim Shemetov / Reuters File Photo)

MOSCOW — Russians will be able to obtain plots of land in Russia’s Arctic free of charge to build homes and set up businesses under a draft law drawn up by the government as the Kremlin pushes to develop its resource-rich Far North.

President Vladimir Putin has made Russia’s swathe of the Arctic a priority, revamping infrastructure, beefing up its military presence and trying to make the Northern Sea Route an important shipping route.

The legislation drafted by the Natural Resources Ministry outlines a program for the Russian Arctic’s residents to acquire up to one hectare of land for free to build a home or use for business, such as tourism.

After six months, that program would be opened up to all Russians, the resources ministry said in a statement. The proposal still needs to be approved by parliament and signed by Putin before it becomes law.

Under the proposal, individual Arctic regions will determine which plots of land are to be earmarked for the programme. They would be handed over for five years after which holders would have to register as owners or set up long-term leases.

Moscow launched a similar initiative in its Far East in 2016 to nurture the population and economy in its sparsely populated eastern fringe.

“It will definitely serve as a factor to attract new residents to the Arctic, including to set up small businesses,” Murmansk region’s governor said.

Around 90 percent of the 2.5 million people in Russia’s Arctic live in big cities such as Murmansk, Norilsk and Arkhangelsk, the ministry said.

Moscow rapidly expanded its Arctic footprint during the Soviet period, but industry was scaled back after the 1991 Soviet breakup leading to a population decline.

Russian scientists are organizing their first major expedition to the Arctic in decades to study climate change, mining company Norilsk Nickel said on Thursday, weeks after a giant fuel leak at one of its power plants in Siberia.