Russia suspected of ‘pipeline politics’ over Czech oil cuts

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While Moscow insists recent reductions in Russian oil deliveries to the Czech Republic were due to technical reasons, there is speculation that the cuts may be politically motivated and linked to Prague’s recent decision to host an American radar that is part of the US missile shield defence system.

Senior Czech officials, quoted by the International Herald Tribune, said Wednesday (30 July) that Russia had further reduced its oil deliveries, bringing total cutbacks to the Czech Republic in July to 50%. Supplies had already been reduced by about 40% early in June and the disruption is calling into question Russia’s reliability as an energy supplier to Central and Eastern Europe, the Paris-based US daily further writes. 

The state-owned Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft has explained the cuts were due to a lack of available crude. “This has no relation to politics. It was purely commercial,” Transneft Deputy Director Mikhail Barkov told the Interfax news agency. He explained that the cut was the result of a decision by two Russian companies to refine more oil at home rather than exporting it and that it should soon be made up for again by another company. 

But the IHT reports that Czech authorities are unhappy with the explanations. “The fact that we are not being told the real reasons for the disruption and expect reductions to be increased by more than 50% for the month of August shows the lack of transparency in the way the system works,” it quotes the Czech Ambassador at large for energy security Vaclav Bartuska as saying. 

The US Jamestown think tank, which specialises in the security situation in Eurasia, has also accused Moscow of withholding any decent explanation about the deep cut in oil deliveries to the Czech Republic. “Such lack of transparency is at least as significant as the supply cut itself. Forcing the targeted country to guess as to the reasons behind the supply cut is a key element in Moscow’s manipulation of energy supplies for intimidation, retaliation, or asset takeovers,” the think tank writes. 

The EU, which is dependent on Russia for 25% of its gas and oil, has already borne the brunt of Moscow’s ‘pipeline politics’, during cuts in gas deliveries to Ukraine, in 2006 and again in 2008, and when it switched off the oil tap to Belarus, leaving several European countries without supply (EURACTIV 11/01/07). 

The Czech Republic, unlike some of its neighbours in central and eastern Europe, can cope without Russian crude oil thanks to the IKL pipeline, which was built in the 1990s and connects the country with the western European pipeline system in Germany. 

But the case again highlights the EU’s dependency on Russian oil and gas imports and the need for it to seek new supply routes (EURACTIV 18/01/06).

The EU has already long been trying to negotiate a fully-fledged bilateral energy co-operation agreement with Russia that would provide certain guarantees to its member states, but little progress has been made as the start of talks was long-blocked due to successive Polish and Lithuanian vetoes (EURACTIV 26/05/08). 

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