Russia Warns Belarus over Arrest of Potash Boss
Moscow – Russia put pressure on Belarus on Tuesday to release the head of Russian miner Uralkali (URKA.MM), the world’s largest potash producer, a day after he was arrested following talks with the Belarussian prime minister. The arrest of Vladislav Baumgertner followed the breakup of a joint trading venture between Moscow and Minsk which rocked the $20-billion global market for potash, a key ingredient in fertilizers, and upset Belarus.
“It is impermissible to detain a person on his way home after he came for talks at the invitation of the Belarussian government,” Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Interfax news agency. He warned Belarus that the Uralkali chief executive’s arrest could affect diplomatic relations between the two former Soviet allies, but gave no details.
Belarussian investigators said earlier on Tuesday that Baumgertner would be held for two months. He was arrested at Minsk airport on Monday shortly after meeting Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich on suspicion of abusing his position over Uralkali’s decision to quit the joint Russian-Belarus cartel.
Baumgertner’s detention can be prolonged on the orders of investigators, said Pavel Traulko, an official at the Belarussian Investigative Committee. He faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted. Moscow and Minsk remain close allies, more than two decades after the Soviet Union collapsed, but relations are often punctuated by rows that have at times driven Russia to impose trade and financial sanctions on Belarus, whose economy is struggling and has now lost a valuable income source.
Uralkali’s decision at the end of July to pull out of Belarus Potash Co, a marketing venture with state-owned Belaruskali, has knocked more than a quarter off its share price amid doubts that its bid to grab market share would pay off. Its shares fell by a further 2.6 percent on Tuesday, while those of its competitors rallied. Germany’s K&S (SDFGn.DE) gained by 2.3 percent, extending a 4 percent rise on news of Baumgertner’s arrest on Monday. Shares in leading North American fertilizer producers Atrium Inc (AGU.TO), Potash Corp (POT.TO) and Mosaic (MOS.N) all saw buying interest on Monday. (Reuters)