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Finland Asks Russia for Explanation of Land Sales Ban

Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs has asked Russia for an explanation of a new ban on property sales to foreigners covering wide swaths of north-western Russia. The Ministry asked Russia to clarify what the ban means for Finns who already own land in the areas listed as out of limits to foreigners, as well as querying about the future of land purchases.

Image: YLE

According to Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, Finland has held to the principle of reciprocity in negotiations about the issue that have been going on for some while with Russia. “If one can buy land here, then of course one should be able to buy land on the other side of the border as well,” Stubb said.

However, it was only through the media that Stubb heard of the ban on land sales, which was published by Russian officials on Tuesday.

The list of places where sales of land to foreigners or foreign companies is forbidden includes most of the areas across Finland’s eastern border, a total of 34 cities and districts. There are a few exceptions such as the town of Priozersk, which was the Finnish town of Käkisalmi until the Second World War.

The Foreign Ministry’s questions to Russia addressed fears that old land deals could even be cancelled under the ban. According to the Finnish Karelian League, Finns have bought several dozen properties in the area since 2001. Leena Lehtinen, a Tampere lawyer who has served as a consultant on deals in Russia for decades, believes that any land purchases made in these areas since then will be annulled and that the buyers will not be able to get their money back.

Discussions in the Finnish Parliament

Stubb briefed the Finnish Parliament about the matter on Thursday, emphasising that this was something that Finland and Russia would have to work out between themselves. Getting the European Union or the World Trade Organisation WTO involved, as some Parliamentarians suggested, would do little to solve this conflict of interests.

Minister of Justice Tuija Brax called for restraint in the matter, saying that her Ministry would await further analysis on the issue by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Stubb believes that the ruling is related to Russia’s internal politics. He earlier compared it to the situation in Finland around the time it joined the EU in 1995. At that point, many Finns wanted to limit sales to foreigners.

Russia Defends the Ban

Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, says that the ban is not in violation of international law, pointing out that many other countries have similar restrictions.

According to the Russian Embassy in Helsinki, the list is related to a law dating back to 2001 that blocked foreign ownership along the border zone. That zone has now been defined by presidential decree.

Embassy officials declined to explain to YLE the aim of the law or why the areas are so extensive.

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