The chances of a reformation of the Belarusian Potash Company appeared to grow larger as a fourth potential buyer emerged for the controlling stake in Uralkali owned by Suleyman Kerimov, who is seen as a stumbling block for a reunion.
Alyaksey Khotsin offered to buy the 22% stake in Uralkali owned by Kerimov and a further 11% owned by associates, according to local media, a deal that would, at market values, be worth some $5.3bn.
Mr Khotsin, who is Belarusian born, and his son moved some 10 years ago to Moscow, where they own about 1.8m square metres in commercial property.
'Question of price'
The report of his offer comes the day after Vladimir Evtushenkov, who controls Sistema, the Russian oil-to-telecoms conglomerate, declared his interest in buying Mr Kerimov's stake.
"I am interested in Uralkali – it's quite clear that it's a question of price. Now, the selling price is too high."
Mr Kerimov is said to be holding out for a market value for Uralkali of $20bn, above the $16.0bn it was worth on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, banker Vladimir Kogan, backed by an Arab state fund, and Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire owner of the Onexim empire, are also believed to be pursuing a deal.
'Steps towards a reconciliation'
The increasing prospects of a new controlling shareholder at Uralkali is seen by many investors as raising the likelihood of an imminent reformation of BPC, which Uralkali broke up in July, in anger at sales outside the consortium by partner in the cartel, Belarus-based Belaruskali.
"I had thought that it would be a couple of years before we would see a reunion between the two," John Chu, analyst at broker AltaCorp Capital, said.
"Buying out Kerimov is a big deal. It looked like it might take a long time.
"But it looks like we may have taken the first and second steps towards a reconciliation."
Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus - where Uralkali chief executive Vladislav Baumgertner is being held on charges of abusing office as chairman of BPC - has said that a Belaruskali-Uralkali alliance can be restored if Mr Kerimov is bought out.
'Not been extreme'
And there is a growing sentiment that the Kremlin too is keen on reuniting the cartel which, in controlling more than 40% of world potash trade, played a key role in supporting prices of the fertilizer.
While Russia has made some moves towards retaliating against Belarus for its arrest of Mr Baumgertner, including cutting oil supplies by 42% to 3.1m tonnes in the October-to-December quarter, many observers have been surprised that the reaction was not more severe.
"Russia has not been extreme in terms of retribution," Mr Chu told Agrimoney.com.
A reunion of BPC would imply stronger prices of potash, a big earner for both Belarus and Russia, after a fall in prices to three-year lows following the cartel's break up.
BPC and Canada's Canpotex consortium together controlled some 70% of world trade.
Indeed, one stumbling block to a reunion could be the growing influence in Uralkali of China, the biggest potash importer, which last month acquired a 12.5% stake.
Uralkali on Thursday unveiled a slump of 53% to 2.21 roubles per share, or $0.35 per depositary receipt, in its interim dividend, a reflection of its fall in earnings during the period.
Uralkali shares closed down 0.6% at 173.79 roubles in Moscow.