MOSCOW, September 23 (RIA Novosti) – Russian President Vladimir Putin talked to his Belarusian counterpart on the sidelines of gathering of Eurasian leaders Monday about an international fertilizer feud that has led to the arrest of a prominent Russian businessman, Putin’s spokesman said.
“Putin and [Belarusian President Alexander] Lukashenko spoke to each other today during the summit. It was a brief one-on-one meeting. They touched on the topic of Uralkali,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists in the southern Russian city of Sochi where a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance of former Soviet states, is taking place.
Russia’s Uralkali, the world’s biggest producer of potash, has been embroiled in a dispute with Belarusian fertilizer giant Belaruskali since July when Uralkali dissolved an international cartel within which the two companies were cooperating. The move sent international fertilizer prices tumbling. In an apparent act of revenge by Minsk, the CEO of Uralkali, Vladislav Baumgertner, was arrested in Belarus in August and remains in prison.
While Russian authorities have condemned Belarus’ treatment of Baumgertner, Putin said almost two weeks after the arrest that he had not spoken to Lukashenko about the issue, adding that the public reticence of senior Russian officials over the issue was due to efforts being made to solve the problem without direct confrontation.
Russia and Belarus have a long history of conflict over economic questions, and bilateral relations have apparently been strained by the spat between the potash companies. Minsk is also pressing Russia to extradite billionaire Suleiman Kerimov, Uralkali’s largest shareholder, to Belarus where he faces criminal charges.
In a possible path to resolving the conflict, Lukashenko said last week that Baumgertner could be extradited to Moscow if Russian authorities undertook to investigate the Belarusian claims against him.