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Minsk and Moscow set to reconcile

September 20, 2013, 11:32 UTC+3

Russia-Belarus dispute over potash fertilizers close to settlement

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Russia-Belarus dispute over potash fertilizers is close to settlement. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is set to hand over the general director of Russia’s largest potash producer Uralkali, Vladislav Baumgertner, to Russian law enforcers and restore partnership relations with the company he leads. Lukashenko announced his intention to do this at a meeting on the country’s current economic and foreign policy affairs. Nezavisimaya Gazeta cites experts as saying that this scenario doesn't look like surrender and as expressing confidence that Moscow has come to terms with Minsk.

“If Russian investigators demonstrate interest in extradition of the Russian citizen whom we have detained, I see no special obstacles for this. We absolutely do not hold onto him,” Alexander Lukashenko said on Thursday speaking about Vladislav Baumgertner, who has already been staying in a detention ward of the Belarusian State Security Agency KGB in Minsk for three weeks.

This does not mean that charges against him will be withdrawn. The Belarusian leader believes that the Uralkali chief will be dealt in compliance with the law in Russia, as his actions heavily damaged the union states. Moreover, Lukashenko hopes that Belarus’s financial losses will be compensated.

Alexander Lukashenko saw two variants for settling the potash row - “a civilized divorce” between Belaruskali and Uralkali or “restoration of joint activity” in case of owners’ replacement. He did not specify what he meant under “a civilized divorce.”

All statement made by the Belarusian president were quite expected and did not surprise local observers, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote. “I will take the risk of making a supposition that soon we will hear an announcement that being guided by the feeling of the Slavonic fraternity, Baumgertner is taken from a Belarusian prison to the Russian one and soon be freed there,” Belarusian political scientist Valery Karbalevich wrote in his blog several hours before Lukashenko made his statement.

Aside from resolving the potash dispute it is necessary to restore the economic balance, the expert said giving one of the reasons for Lukashenko’s statements. “On September 20-26 Belarus will host the Russian-Belarusian military exercise, which Putin plans to visit. By that time Baumgertner should be released,” Karbalevich said.

Many local experts warn the public of considering Minsk’s readiness to reconcile as surrender. First, they express confidence that Minsk’s main precondition has been fulfilled and Uralkali’s shares have been transferred to another owner, although there is no official confirmation. Second, experts invite to see interrelation between the potash row and recent visits of Rosneft chief Igor Sechin, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller and Sberbank Chairman of the Board German Gref to Minsk. For instance, Valery Karbalevich draws attention to the fact that they come not with empty hands, but with “gifts.” These are promises not to cut oil supplies and to increase gas transit volumes as well as an agreement to refinance Belaruskali’s billion dollar loan that cannot be paid back in the current conditions.

Making suppositions about reasons for Russia’s amenability the expert believes that it is caused by the struggle between Moscow and Brussels for the spheres of influence that has been aggravating in the run up to the summit of Eastern Partnership. In this time the conflict with the main ally turns quite inappropriate.

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