April 14. 2024. 7:48

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Belarus fertilisers sanction-busting schemes revealed

Bypassing EU sanctions, a chain of companies has been enabling the sale of fertilisers in Europe, filling the pockets of Belarusian officials and weakening the EU’s ability to put pressure on the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, a journalistic investigation revealed on Monday (20 February).

Grodno Azot is the only Belarusian facility to produce carbamide fertiliser. It has been under EU sanctions since December 2021 for allegedly firing and intimidating workers who participated in protests after the 2020 presidential election, and thus it was prohibited from selling its products to the EU.

EU sanctions on Belarus target key fertiliser amid rising input prices

The EU has banned all imports from Belarus of potash, an important fertiliser that is largely deficient in Europe, in a move that puts further pressure on the agriculture sector already struggling with an input price hike.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s henchmen are among multiple beneficiaries of these schemes, and Belarusian authorities are directly involved, investigations found.

Ambush on the border

During the night of 13-14 February, Rabochy Rukh (Workers’ Movement) activists ambushed Belarusian trucks loaded with sanctioned products. The first truck passed through Lithuanian customs late at night but was blocked by the activists. The driver, visibly confused, presented documents showing the truck transports fertilisers from the sanctioned Grodno Azot company into Europe.

Stanislau Ivashkevich, the head of the Belarusian Investigative Centre, covered the action as a correspondent. He succeeded in talking to the truck driver, who confirmed that the truck was loaded at Grodno Azot. About an hour later, the activists blocked another truck, and its driver also confirmed that he transports Grodno Azot fertilisers.

Lithuanian police and border patrol arrived and asked the activists to stop the blockade, but they refused. After midnight customs officers arrived, and the two intercepted trucks were taken for additional inspection. The next day, Lithuanian customs began an internal check of possible violations of international sanctions.

Hrodna shell company

Rusak has worked for Grodno Azot for more than 30 years, where he held different positions. From 2016-2019, he also served as a member of Parliament. In the 2020 presidential election, he headed the election commission at a polling station in the Grodno Azot dormitory.

In July 2021, Rusak was appointed as director of Grikom, a company founded the previous day and owned by the Hrodna Executive Committee. Its obvious aim was to replace, on paper, the sanctioned Grodno Azot as a supplier of fertilisers to the West.

They also found a contract between Grikom and the Serbian company Wakler. It stipulates that Grikom shall supply about €20 million of carbamide to Serbia in one year. It should be noted that Serbia has joined the EU sanctions against Grodno Azot.

Grikom director Viktar Rusak refused to comment. Rabochy Rukh’s sources reported that he signed documents drafted by Grodno Azot plant managers that helped bypass sanctions.

Dubai offshore

In October 2022, the Belarus Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade granted a one-time export license to supply carbamide to the little-known Belarusian company Technospectreiding.

Journalists discovered that the quality certificate Technospectreiding used to supply carbamide to Dubai meets the GOST 2081-2010 standard. The same product is manufactured in Belarus only by Grodno Azot. This was confirmed by two independent sources – Yury Ravavy, a former Grodno Azot worker who headed the plant strike committee, and Arminas Kildišis, a Lithuanian fertiliser expert.

Technospectreiding claims to be both a supplier and producer of carbamide, which sounds more than suspicious.

A variety of facts described in the investigation suggest that Technospectreiding is another shell company of Grodno Azot. According to analysts, the Emirati buyers need no carbamides and are used just as a cover, while the fertiliser ends up in Europe.

“Carbamide is exported to countries where ammonium nitrate and calcium ammonium nitrate are not used. These are mainly France and Germany,” fertiliser expert Arminas Kildišis commented.