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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Says Oil Supplies Must Reach Czechs

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered the guarantee of full oil supplies to the Czech Republic and sought to deny that disruptions in July were linked to Prague's role in a U.S. missile-defense shield.

"I'm calling on you to treat this matter carefully and work out [the measures] with all the partners so that there are no interruptions," Putin told government officials, Interfax reported.

"[Disruptions] are not directly linked to Russian oil suppliers," Putin added after being briefed by Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who blamed trading intermediaries for lower supplies.

State officials have said the cuts in flows to the Czech Republic via the Druzhba pipeline were of a technical nature after analysts said they suspected it could have been a retaliation by Moscow to Prague's decision to host a radar station as part of a U.S. missile shield.

Traders have been more skeptical about the political context of the cut, saying they believed that it could be linked to a fight by the new management of pipeline monopoly Transneft to change the key coordinator on the route, trading firm Fisotra.

Sechin indirectly confirmed it.

"Russian oil supplies are being made based on agreements between Russian firms and Czech consumers via intermediaries, which are registered in offshore zones," he said, Interfax reported.

"The overwhelming majority of Russian companies don't have direct long-term supply deals with Czech consumers," he said, adding that the presence of intermediaries "was not guaranteeing implementation of agreed export volumes."

Russia opposes the missile-shield plan involving its Soviet-era satellite countries, saying it poses a direct threat to its own security.

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.

Sechin criticized Ukraine's plans to reverse the direction of the Odessa-Brody oil pipeline this year, citing concerns over stability of Russian crude supplies to Europe. Ukraine now uses the pipeline in the opposite direction to ship Russian crude to the Mediterranean.

"This is a concern for Russian companies supplying crude to Central Europe. These companies will have to look for other delivery routes," Sechin said, Interfax reported.

Meanwhile, President Dmitry Medvedev and Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller discussed the terms of supplying gas to Ukraine for 2009, Interfax reported. No details were given.

n Medvedev and Putin issued harsh warnings Monday to governors that they needed to do more to prepare their regions for the upcoming winter months, particularly in providing adequate gas and heat.

"If administrative or organizational measures need to be taken, they will be," Medvedev said during his meeting with Miller, RIA-Novosti reported. "The people shouldn't have to suffer for the sluggishness of the leaders of individual regions," he said, referring to plans to boost gas infrastructure.

Putin said the Energy Ministry should follow the situation, RIA-Novosti reported, and that "right up to the harshest measures" would be used to hold accountable those failing to meet their responsibilities.