At a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization leaders today, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belorussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko took a moment to discuss the ongoing detention of Uralkali executive, Vladislav Baumgertner. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists the two leaders had a short face-to-face meeting, but said little more on the matter.
Relations between the two FSU nations have declined since July when Russia's Uralkali announced it would secede from a potash venture with Belaruskali. High ranking Belorussian officials had invited Baumgertner to Minsk and arrested Baumgertner shortly after his arrival in Belarus on charges of abuse of power. Russia has since pursued import sanctions against Belarus including limited sendouts to Belraus of Russian crude oil and limited tenders of Belorussian pork and dairy products into Russia. Between those three sanctions and reduced capacity to tender potash contracts, Putin has put a major crimp on Belarus' export revenues.
Belarus has also targeted other Uralkali executives and has asked Russia to extradite Suleiman Kerimov, who remains at large. Last week, Lukashenko told reporters that Baumgertner could be sent back to Russia, but only if Russia pursues a course of action to investigate Belaruskali's claims that Uralkali had broken the rules of the joint venture and tendered product outside the venture. But Uralkali leveled the same charge a Belaruskali, resulting in the July split of the two.
Lukashenko says he hasn't heard much from Putin since the capture of Baumgertner, but Putin has had bigger fish to fry in Syria. As trade sanctions tighten between Russia and Belarus, tempers are likely to build pressure. Neither of these nations wants to blink here and as Baumgertner waits in a Belorussian prison, it looks like Putin is in no hurry to come to the bargaining table with Lukashenko.
One wonders if this were the middle of winter in Belarus if Putin might not close the natural gas spicket as he has in years past to make his point known. The Kremlin has expressed its disapproval of Lukashenko's detention of CEO Baumgertner, and despite Putin's silence on the matter, if Belarus does not give ground soon, Moscow will run out of patience and look to punish Belarus, as winter inches closer.