Russian minister offers land as prize on Instagram

Russian Minister Alexander Kozlov's Instagram post. Image copyright Alexander Kozlov/Instagram
Image caption Mr Kozlov racked up thousands of replies in days

A Russian minister has come in for criticism for awarding a plot of land as a competition prize on his official Instagram account.

Alexander Kozlov, minister in charge of the development of the Far East, launched a mystery prize draw, open to anyone who subscribed and commented on his Instagram page as long as they also tagged a friend - with surprise gifts for anyone who guessed what the main prize was, the Rambler news portal reports.

He garnered almost 8,000 comments in a matter of days. Some suggested the prize was lunch with Mr Kozlov on his expense account while others guessed at early retirement - a reference to the Russian government's decision to raise the pension age that has prompted mass protests.

But the prize turned out to be a plot of land already on offer for free under the government's Far Eastern Hectare plan, which aims to counter the rural depopulation of eastern Siberia by giving up to a hectare to any citizen who want to settle or work the land.

Image copyright
Image caption Russia is offering citizens free plots of land in the Far East

Some critics complained that the competition bypassed the scheme and awarded the plot at random, rather than to someone who wants or needs it.

Others said that the minister ought to be sorting out the problems that some new settlers on Far Eastern lands have already encountered - ranging from red tape to "lack of roads and electricity".

The minister insists that he ran the competition in his own time, "spending no more than 10 minutes on it", and denies that any needy applicant had lost out.

Many social media users are happy to accept his effort to publicise the Far Eastern Hectare scheme, although Mr Kozlov might not appreciate the well-intentioned comment that he had "just offered to give away something that no one wanted anyway".

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In the meantime, the competition winner was 29-year-old medical graduate Galina Sorokina, who completely forgot she'd entered the draw.

"A friend dropped me a line to say 'looks like you're won some land'. I'm still in shock," she told the Amur Info news site. She hasn't decided what to do with her new holding, but won't have far to travel either way as she is a native of the Far East's Amur Region.

As for the 13 people who guessed the prize correctly, they will get official Far East Development Ministry badges, and Mr Kozlov has also promised a signed postcard to all entrants who send in their postal address.

Even this gesture did not go unchallenged. "People are fleeing the Far East, and you're spending a week signing postcards," railed one Instagram user.

The government insists that the land scheme, despite some teething troubles, is making steady progress. Its dedicated website says about 70,000 people have settled in the Far East since the programme was launched in 2016.

Image copyright Andshel/Wikicommons
Image caption Russia's Far East is beautiful but underpopulated

Reporting by Adam Robinson and Martin Morgan

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