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Russian politicians, experts in dismay over businessman’s arrest in Belarus

August 27, 2013, 18:12 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara

MOSCOW, August 27 (Itar-Tass) - Russian businesses and politicians are in dismay over the controversial arrest of a Russian businessman, general director of the Uralkali company, Vladislav Baumgertner, in Belarus. In the wake of the severing of relations between Uralkali and the Belarussian producer of potassium fertilizers Belarussian Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich on August 26 invited the chief executive officer of one of the world’s largest manufacturers of fertilisers, Vladislav Baumgertner, to Minsk for talks. After the negotiations were over Baumgertner was detained at the airport and remanded in custody for two months. The Investigative Committee of Belarus suspects him of power abuse, committed during his work for the Belarussian potassium company (BKK).

The president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Alexander Shokhin, has told ITAR-TASS in an interview the very instance of a top manager being arrested after negotiations with the prime minister was very surprising.

“Baumgertner must have refused to meet Myasnikovich halfway. They failed to come to terms and the arrest followed,” he speculated.

“Proceeding from the common sense the Investigative Committee of Belarus should have brought public charges against the Russian businessman, and not confine itself to some hazy hints,” Shokhin said. “The RUIE has maintained all the way that arrest should never be used against suspects in economic crimes. There are other restrictive measures - written promise not to leave town, bail, or parole.”

Alexander Shokhin expressed regret over the fact “the arrest of a Russian businessman will cause a negative effect on the integration process of the customs union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.”

He also believes that “to form a single economic space within the Customs Union it will be necessary to create a common economic court and a court of arbitration.

“This would help harmonize judicial and investigative procedures to ensure the relations between Customs Union members never reach the phase of open conflicts,” he said.

The RUIE warned the Belarussian counterparts that “the integration process between the two countries is in jeopardy.”

“After Minsk has deviated from the procedural norms that far Russian businesses will be reluctant to seek integration with Belarussian ones,” it said.

The deputy director of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), Yevgeny Gontmakher, has told ITAR-TASS in an interview that from the standpoint of bilateral relations between Russia and Belarus as partners in the Union State “the arrest of one of the world’s leading potassium producers is an unseemly, indecent and incorrect move, and surely a different solution should have been sought.”

Public Chamber member, deputy rector of Russia’s Plekhanov University, Sergei Markov, has agreed that “large corporations operating in the raw materials sectors of the economy fail to act in harmony - each tries to lay hands on as much resources as it can.” Markov told ITAR-TASS in an interview he would like to see “President Vladimir Putin intervene and urge both conflicting companies - Uralkali and Belaruskali - to create a civilized model of interaction.”

The deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee, Andrei Klimov, is certain “the Belarussian counterparts’ mode of action cannot but arouse surprise, if one proceeds from the presumption of innocence.”

“If a Russian businessman were arrested during a fishing trip to Belarus, that is one thing. But in this particular case the man was invited by the country’s prime-minister for talks. It turns out that the prime minister resorted to a rather devious way of luring his negotiating partner into a detention centre. This kind of action is not exactly what one may call civilized. It looks like medieval cynicism - arresting a businessmen for the sole reason he disagrees with you.”

Andrei Klimov believes that “in any business actions by one firm harm another.” At the same time he is certain that unified rules of the game have to be observed, otherwise it may turn out that “what started as a game of chess will end as a baseball match.”

At the same time Klimov urged the Belarussian side to avoid from violating the climate of trust and to act with greater caution so as not to prevent Eurasian integration.

The chairman of the Foreign and Defence Policy Council, Fyodor Lukyanov, has told ITAR-TASS the arrest of a Russian businessman in Minsk was “an outrageous act of political and economic blackmail, in fact, an act of piracy.”

In his opinion the Russian authorities must exert the maximum efforts to ensure Vladislav Baumgertner should be freed. “Then it will be possible to look into the gist of the charges brought against him,” the analyst said.

The director of the CIS Countries Institute, Konstantin Zatulin, has told ITAR-TASS in an interview the Russian embassy in Belarus must put in a word for its citizen.

“If the man is guilty, it is up to a court of law to find out,” he said. Just as all of the previous interviewees, Zatulin believes that the businessman’s arrest immediately after talks with number two person in the Belarussian hierarchy cast a long shadow on the authorities in Minsk.