PRAGUE, July 14 Russian officials have assured
the Czech Republic that last week's drop in oil supplies to the
central European country was for technical, not political,
reasons, the Czech industry and trade ministry said on Monday.
Crude oil flow from Russia, the Czech Republic's main oil
supplier, fell by about half last week, in what some speculated
was retaliation for the Czech government agreeing to host part
of a U.S. missile defence shield which Russia opposes.
"They excluded political reasons," Czech industry and trade
ministry spokesman Tomas Bartovsky said after deputy minister
Tomas Huener met officials at the Russian embassy in Prague.
"The reasons are on the side of extraction and business
relations between suppliers."
Russia is staunchly opposed to the missile shield plan,
which will give the United States a military presence in its
former Warsaw Pact ally. Moscow has in the past used oil
supplies as a political tool elsewhere in the region.
"I want to believe that 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."
If the reduction in supply is maintained until the end of
the month, crude oil deliveries in July will be about 200,000
tonnes less than the planned volume of about 500,000 tonnes.
Bartovsky said Russia could potentially harm the Czech
Republic more by reducing natural gas flow, as supply sources
are less diversified, but added: "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 the lost volume
would be compensated for.
The Czech Republic, with a population of 10.4 million, has
about 95 days of reserves of oil and oil products.
The Druzhba runs from Russia via two branches to Belarus,
Poland, Ukraine, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech