MOSCOW, August 30 (RIA Novosti) – A Russian presidential aide demanded Friday the "immediate release" of Vladislav Baumgertner, the chief executive of Russia’s largest fertilizer company, whose detention in neighboring Belarus earlier this week has apparently sparked the latest in a long line of trade wars between the two neighbors.
“We demand [Baumgertner’s] immediate release,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aide Yury Ushakov said.
Baumgertner, CEO of Uralkali, the world’s largest producer of potash, was detained Monday in the Belarusian capital Minsk. He is also a member of the oversight board of Uralkali’s former Belarusian partner, Belaruskali.
Baumgertner was charged this week with abuse of power and official duties and faces up to 10 years in jail. The Belarusian authorities have accused him and four other Uralkali executives of causing the state losses of about $100 million by pulling the company out of a cartel in late July it operated with Belaruskali, Bloomberg reported.
The pull-out caused global prices for potash, one of Minsk’s most vital exports, to crash, and the value of Belaruskali to plunge.
But Belarus showed little sign of softening its stance, reiterating Friday that it might start an investigation into Russian billionaire Suleiman Kerimov, who owns 21.75 percent of Uralkali’s stock. A criminal investigation into Kerimov might be “launched in the nearest future,” Belarusian Investigative Committee spokesman Pavel Traulko said.
Earlier this week, Moscow hit back at two mainstays of the Belarusian economy by imposing cuts on oil exports to Minsk and threatening food imports from Belarus, while denying the moves were connected to Baumgertner's plight.
Russian oil pipeline monopoly Transneft said it planned to cut oil supplies to Belarus by 400,000 metric tons for September, slashing 20 percent of Belarus’ total monthly oil imports. Belarus relies entirely on Russian oil to supply its two major refineries.
Russia’s chief sanitary inspector Gennady Onishchenko criticized the quality of Belarusian milk products Thursday and cast doubt upon their safety for Russian consumers.
Russia and Belarus have a long history of quarreling over economic matters. Russia, keen to prop up one of its last political allies, has in effect subsidized the Belarusian economy with cheap oil and gas and loans, but Moscow appears to be increasingly impatient with what it sees as Belarus abusing that largesse.