On February 6, 2023, The Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine reported on the arrest of 170 cars with the products of Belaruskali and Uralkali for a total of almost 100 million hryvnias (more than $2,7 million).
The agency said that the cars contained mineral fertilizers of Belarusian and Russian production, with a total weight of 11.8 thousand tons. According to the investigation, the cars with fertilizers arrived in Ukraine before the start of Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It is reported that they were in transit regime in Mykolayiv on the territory of the Sea Specialized Port, which is part of the business structures of a sanctioned oligarch.
Then the owners of the products were planning to ship them to third countries to sell them and make millions in profits. Part of it, in the form of taxes, would be used to finance Russia’s war against Ukraine. Now the seized property will be transferred to the Agency for Search and Management of Assets.
On the same day, the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) also reported on the arrest of these cars with fertilizers and provided a little more information. First, it clarified that the port where the cargo was found was part of the business structures of sanctioned oligarch Dmytro Firtash.
Dmytro Firtash / AP
Note: Dmytro Firtash is a Ukrainian billionaire, the owner of Group DF (Group of Dmitry Firtash), who has been under Ukrainian sanctions since 2021.
Second, the SSU released two photos of the arrested Belaruskali cars — these are typical hopper cars used by the Belarusian company to transport bulk granular cargo, coarse-grained, crystalline potash fertilizers and powdered raw materials for their production.
The arrested hopper car, which belongs to Belaruskali / SSU
It is important that the photos clearly show the numbers of the cars: 90424797 and 90480799.
The arrested train with Belaruskali's hopper cars / SSU
When could these fertilizers have arrived in Ukraine?
Despite the fact that the SSU and the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine have not named specific dates, and have only given the wording «before the start of the full-scale invasion,» it already makes sense of the timing. The fact is that since February 16, 2022 ️Ukraine stopped the transit of the Belarusian potash fertilizers for an indefinite period of time.
Screenshot from the document on the ban on the transit of potash / uz.gov.ua
Then it was reported on the website of Ukrzaliznytsia that restrictions are imposed on the import and transit of products of Belaruskali and Belarusian Potash Company in the direction of Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, Romania, the Baltic States and the CIS states.
However, the ban did not apply to the Ukrainian company Agrorozkvit LLC, which was a major exporter of the Belarusian potash fertilizers. In December 2021, the company came under the U.S. sanctions for this.
In addition, it was not clear whether the ban affected the transit of potash fertilizers through the Mykolayiv Sea Trade Port and the Sea Port in Odessa. The transit of potash, for example, to India could quite possibly go through Ukrainian seaports. In early February 2022, Reuters, citing two Indian officials, reported that India was planning to buy more than 1 million tons of potash from the regime in Belarus, and the deal could take place in February 2022.
Could Ukraine or Dmytro Firtash have helped the Lukashenka regime circumvent transport restrictions just before the beginning of the war?
There are at least two more things to note:
- As of early February 2022, two months have already passed since the U.S. sanctions were imposed on Belarusian Potash Company and Agrorozkvit LLC.
- Since February 1, 2022, Lithuania terminated the contract with the state railroads for the transportation of Belarusian potash, completely stopping the transit of Belarusian potash for transportation through the port of Klaipeda.
The fact that the transit of potash through Lithuania had been stopped was confirmed even by Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko, who said on February 1, 2022 that Lithuania had indeed stopped receiving Belarusian trains that transported potash to the port of Klaipeda for shipment.
Thus, there is reason to believe that the cars with Belarusian potash arrested in Ukraine were initially supposed to be transported to third countries through Lithuania, but were sent through Ukraine.
We note that at the moment this is just a version, which can be confirmed after verifying the numbers of the hopper cars — figuring out the date of their arrival in Ukraine. If the arrival date of the hopper cars from Belarus to Ukraine is between February 1 and February 24, it would mean that Firtash’s structures could have helped the Lukashenka regime circumvent restrictions on potash transit. Moreover, if it turns out that Belaruskali or Belarus Potash Company was the sender of the cars and they arrived in Ukraine between February 16 and 24, it would also mean the circumvention of restrictions imposed by ️Ukraine itself.