MOSCOW, September 7 (RIA Novosti) – Moscow insists on the immediate release of a Russian fertilizer company CEO from a Belarusian jail, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin met with Belarusian Ambassador to Russia Igor Petrishenko to discuss the arrest and detention of Vladislav Baumgertner, held by Minsk authorities since late August.
During the meeting, Karasin “again stressed that Moscow insists on unconditional and immediate release of Russian citizen Baumgertner and his unimpeded return to Russia,” the ministry said.
A court in Minsk ruled on Friday that Baumgertner should stay in custody. The defense team said it would appeal the ruling on Monday.
The Russian embassy in Belarus said it was still waiting for an official reply from Belarusian prosecutors on its formal request to release Baumgertner from pre-trial custody and choose another type of pre-trial restraint for him. The deadline for reply is Saturday.
Baumgertner, who is the chief executive officer of Uralkali – the world’s largest potash producer – was charged with abuse of power. Uralkali claimed the arrest was part of a “politically motivated persecution” related to a commercial battle with Uralkali’s former Belarusian partner.
In July, Uralkali dissolved an international cartel with Belarusian potash giant Belaruskali, blaming Minsk for selling some of its produce outside their agreement. The move sent shares in fertilizer producers tumbling worldwide and has precipitated a steady fall in fertilizer prices as consumers and traders anticipate increased market competition.
Belarus and Russia have since traded economic sanctions which both sides deny are linked to the business dispute.
After Baumgertner’s arrest, Russia announced major cuts to oil supplies to Belarus, while a senior health official made negative comments on the safety of Belarusian milk products.
A few days later, Belarus issued an arrest warrant for Russian billionaire Suleiman Kerimov – the biggest shareholder in Uralkali – also for abuse of power, and reportedly placed him on an Interpol wanted list.
This week, the issue was addressed at the top level of the two states’ leadership. Although the presidents of Russia and Belarus have not yet discussed the dispute in person, Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first remarks about the Uralkali case, and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko issued a decree scrapping export duties for Belaruskali products until December 31.
The issue also dominated a meeting between Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Arkadi Dvorkovich and Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko.