“The people will be left without land” is one of Moscow’s favorite scare narratives about International Monetary Fund policies in Ukraine. This week saw the resurgence of this narrative as a dubious expert from the Russian Defense Ministry television channel Zvezda warned of the “grave consequences” that Ukrainians will face as a result of IMF land reform requirements. Currently there is a moratorium on sale of farmland in Ukraine effective until January 1, 2019. Ukraine has been under pressure from the IMF to lift the sale ban and calls to rescind the moratorium are getting louder. Land reform however is not an IMF demand that precludes the dispensing of the next tranche of Ukraine’s financial support.
Zvezda’s so-called land expert Igor Druz is a former adviser to the defense minister of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. “Land reform will deprive people of land and leave it in the hands of transnational corporations which will plant GMO crops throughout Ukraine” Druz claims. Ukraine’s pro-Russian Opposition bloc of former members of the disgraced Regions Party of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych espouses the same views and rhetoric. Such pronouncements resound widely after each IMF visit to Ukraine.
Land reform stopped being an IMF requirement in 2017. In March 2018 IMF Ukraine representative Jost Ljungman told the Novoye Vremya newspaper that mandatory land reform had to be postponed because more time was needed for its effective preparation.
One of the tenets of Ukraine’s approach to land reform is that only Ukrainian citizens would be allowed to purchase farmland. Kyiv has yet to determine the size of plots allowed for individual private sales in order to safeguard against speculative resale during the first three years of ownership.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Agriculture together with international donor organizations is working to change public opinion about land reform, currently a topic of endless political speculation and myth-building.
A recent European Court of Human Rights decision ruled that the ban on farmland sales violated the rights of Ukrainians who own that land. The moratorium violates Ukraine’s Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine’s collective farms were broken and parcels of land averaging four acres, together totaling some 64,000 square miles, roughly the size of the state of Florida were awarded to former employees. In 2001 Kyiv passed a law banning the sale and purchase of these plots. The ban has been extended nine times.
Historically known as the ‘ breadbasket of Europe’ Ukraine’s famed black earth defined the country in many ways. Ukrainians have lived, worked, fought and starved on their land for centuries. Stalin’s forced collectivization drive resulted in the death of some 6 million Ukrainians in 1932-33. This painful history has made land reform a particularly delicate problem for the country’s governments.
StopFake regularly debunks fakes concerning IMF policies regarding Ukraine which regularly surface on the eve of IMF visits to Ukraine. Ukrainians losing their land to IMF demands is a classic Kremlin narrative that resurfaces with clockwork regularity.