Direct Oil Offer Made To Czechs

PRAGUE -- Russia offered the Czech Republic direct deliveries of oil in an unprecedented move aiming to improve its business image in the West, government officials said Monday.

In an interview with the Euro weekly, Vaclav Bartuska, Czech ambassador-at-large for energy security, said the offer came in writing and was designed to eliminate the middlemen making money from oil business on the way from Russia to Prague.

Bartuska declined to reveal the names of the middlemen that would be left out of the new deal nor technical details of the solution, but he called the deal "unprecedented," saying no such offer was ever made to any other country.

In July, the Czech Republic reported that Russia had reduced oil supplies without any immediate explanation. There were concerns that the move was a retaliation after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Czech counterpart Karel Schwarzenberg signed a deal in Prague to deploy a radar system near the capital as part of a U.S. global missile shield.

The shipments are now back to normal, and Moscow has assured the Czech government that the July decline was due to technical problems and trade relations between the companies that deliver oil, not because of opposition the U.S. missile-defense plan.

Bartuska said the new offer allows for direct relations between the refineries and suppliers.