End of rent-free land use for Russia

Russian Embassy in Prague

The Czech government has decided to scrap several Communist-era decrees that allowed Russia to use land in Czechia rent-free for diplomatic purposes. The decision has elicited an angry reaction from Moscow, which is threatening to retaliate.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala announced the decision at a press briefing in Prague, saying that it was a move aimed at putting bilateral relations between the two countries on a more equal footing.

Petr Fiala | Photo: Office of Czech Government

“We are finally, after several decades, getting to a normal, standard state of affairs. In other words, we are now going to request rent from Russia for this land, at a rate that corresponds to the cost of rent for other similar plots of land in the given locality.”

In its report, the foreign ministry also referenced the unequal state of affairs between Russia and Czechia, citing that Russia uses 87,863 m2 of state land in Czechia for free, while Czechia in turn has access to only 26,875 m2 in Russia, which the report describes as “far from respecting the principle of reciprocity”.

Martin Dvořák, the minister for European affairs, said on Twitter that the resolutions from the 1970s and 80s which “allowed Russia to use large tracts of land on our territory for free” had been made “under the guns of Russian tanks after the occupation of our country”. He also stated that Czechia does not want the unauthorized profits from the use of these lands to be used to fund Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Dvořák | Photo: Kateřina Cibulka,  Czech Radio

The real estate in question, a total of 59 plots of land that were given to the Soviet Union during the Communist era, is mostly located in Prague, but there are also properties in Brno, Karlovy Vary, Vlkančice, and Jevany.

Ondřej Kolář, the former mayor of Prague 6, the district where the vast majority of the Prague properties are located, explains that although the buildings themselves belong to Russia, the land on which they stand doesn’t.

“The Russian Federation, as the successor to the Soviet Union, owns the buildings, but the land on which they are built belongs to Czechia. The government’s decision concerns the land on which there are Russian buildings that were stripped by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in July 2020 of their diplomatic protection according to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”

Ondřej Kolář | Photo: René Volfík,  iROZHLAS.cz

In July 2020, the foreign ministry informed Russia in writing that it would no longer recognize real estate outside the embassy premises that is not used for diplomatic purposes. This is why Czechia now wants to claim back the last three years of tax and rent for these properties, which diplomatic protection exempted Russia of, going back to this date.

The edicts that have been annulled by the Czech government stated that the land could be used for diplomatic purposes, but, according to Kolář, that is far from what is actually happening.

“We received information that the buildings were not being used for diplomatic purposes at all. We found out that instead there were illegal bakeries there, saunas, that the Russians were subletting the buildings, which isn’t at all in accord with the Vienna Convention.”

Jan Lipavský | Photo: Barbora Navrátilová,  Radio Prague International

Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský also referred to the fact that many of the properties are being used for commercial purposes, which he said was allowing Russia to get rich off the back of Czech land which it was using for free without justification.

Maria Zakharova, the Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, hit back on Thursday, saying that Moscow would take “retaliatory steps” in response to the decision if Czechia requests the rent in arrears. She did not specify what form these retaliatory measures would take, but according to the Czech foreign ministry, they could involve the Czech House in Moscow, which belongs to Czechia but stands on land owned by Russia.

Author: Anna Fodor
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