(Updates with Russian comment, adds background)
By Yelena Fabrichnaya
MOSCOW, July 14 Russia said on Monday it cut oil
supplies to the Czech Republic last week for technical reasons,
and denied it was linked to Prague's role in a U.S. missile
"Trade with the Czech Republic or other traditional partners
is in no way linked or connected with resolving the problem of
deployment" of missile shield components, Deputy Foreign
Minister Sergei Kislyak told reporters.
Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft said supplies to the
Czech Republic via the Druzhba pipeline dropped by half last
week only because two Russian firms had decided to refine more
crude at home.
"It is in no way linked to politics. It is pure commerce,"
Interfax quoted Transneft Vice-President Mikhail Barkov as
saying on Monday.
The cut to crude flows from Russia, the Czech Republic's
main supplier, came after Prague agreed to host a radar station
as part of a U.S. missile shield fiercely opposed by Moscow.
"I want to believe that the reasons which the Russian
supplier states are only technical," Czech Prime Minister Mirek
Topolanek said on Monday.
"The government is not going to take any steps because at
the moment there is no threat for the citizens, thanks to
diversification of supplies," he said.
Russia is staunchly opposed to the missile shield plan
involving its former Soviet-era satellites, saying it poses a
direct threat to its own security.
Moscow has said it would point missiles at the Czech
Republic and Poland -- another possible site for shield
components -- if the deployment goes ahead.
Moscow has in the past cut gas supplies to Ukraine in a
pricing dispute and subsequently reduced deliveries of gas to
the European Union, prompting the United States to call on
Russia to stop using energy as a tool of blackmail.
The Russian oil export schedule for the second, third and
fourth quarters lists mid-sized oil firms Tatneft TATN3.MM and
Bashneft as the key suppliers. Both declined comment on Monday.
Industry sources said on Friday that Tatneft had reallocated
some crude volumes to domestic sales, thus reducing exports.
If the reduction in supply were maintained until the end of
the month, crude oil deliveries in July to the Czech Republic
would be about 200,000 tonnes below the planned 500,000 tonnes.
Czech Industry and Trade Ministry spokesman Tomas Bartovsky
said that if Russia wanted to hurt the country, cuts in gas
flows would do more harm as supplies were less diversified.
But he noted: "Gas supplies have not been reduced by a
single cubic metre."
The main Czech refiner Unipetrol UNPEsp.PR said at the
weekend it had begun tapping state oil reserves and raising
deliveries through the IKL pipeline, which hooks up to a west
European pipeline system in Germany.
The Czechs built the link in the mid-1990s to diversify
their energy sources, but still take 5.5 million tonnes of
crude, of their 7.7 million annual needs, via the Druzhba
pipeline from Russia.
Bartovsky said Russia was expected to announce August supply
volumes on Tuesday, which would show whether lost volume would
be compensated for. The Czech Republic has about 95 days of
reserves of oil and oil products.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Jana Mlcochova; Editing by Jon