Russia keeps up pressure on Belarus over potash arrest

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 05, 2013 7:49 AM

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia piled the pressure on neighbor Belarus over the detention of the head of Russian potash maker Uralkali, saying on Thursday the arrest was not acceptable and signaling lower oil supplies.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich also told his Belarussian counterpart Vladimir Semashko that Moscow is not satisfied with the safety of some products from Belarus.

The arrest of Vladimir Baumgertner in Minsk last month put a new strain on the close but sometimes tense relationship between Russia and Belarus. Belarus relies on Moscow for energy supplies and financial help but is important to the Kremlin as a military and economic ally.

Dvorkovich told Semashko on Thursday that Russia will supply Belarus with 18.5 million metric tons of oil in 2013, as previously planned, according to a statement on the government website.

"A fourth-quarter balance would be calculated based on this," the statement said.

That means Russia will effectively cut oil supplies to Belarus in the fourth quarter of the year. Russia has supplied its neighbor with around 5.75 million metric tons of each quarter so far this year, or more than 17 million metric tons.

Belarus has been vying for 23 million metric tons this year it says it needs to feed its refineries.

The move could deal a blow to Belarus, a transit country for Russian oil and natural gas to Europe. Its fragile economy is heavily reliant on agriculture and Russian oil supplies.

Baumgertner was seized in August at the airport outside the Belarussian capital Minsk after being invited to talks with the prime minister, and then humiliated by television footage showing him being searched in his prison cell.

The government said in the statement on Thursday that the bilateral meetings will continue next week.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; editing by Megan Davies and William Hardy)