The Czech Republic has this year imported its highest proportion of Russian oil in over a decade. That has led to protests outside the industry and trade ministry in Prague. But the government points out that it is Polish state firm Orlen – which owns the only two Czech oil refineries – that is responsible for imports.
In Poland, Orlen and the government have taken a tough stance on ending Russian energy supplies and Warsaw has criticised Western countries that have not done so. However, they have also argued that the landlocked Czech Republic can only be supplied via pipelines, meaning there is no alternative to Russian oil.
In a statement yesterday, Orlen pointed out that it is still importing Russian oil to the Czech Republic same terms of a 2013 contract, but noted that the amount can vary over time.
Polish state energy giant Orlen has explained why a Czech company it owns has increased purchases of Russian oil.
„Infrastructural constraints make it impossible to fully cover Czech demand for oil from directions other than Russia,” it says https://t.co/O6N6mQi6Ji
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 12, 2023
In the first half of this year, Russian oil imported to the Czech Republic via the Druzhba pipeline made up 65% of the country’s supplies, a spokeswoman for Mero, the state oil transport company, told news agency ČTK. That is the highest figure since 2012 and up from 56% in the first half of last year.
Lukáš Kovanda, chief economist at Trinity Bank, notes that the value of Russian oil imports to the Czech Republic in the first half of this year reached 20 billion koruna (€817 million). In the same periods from 2020 to 2022, the average figure was 15.6 billion koruna.
On Saturday, the group “No to Russian Oil” (NE ruské ropě) held a protest outside the industry and trade ministry in Prague under the slogan “Russian oil, Ukrainian blood”.
Zvýšení nákupu ruské ropy = dobrovolné zachráněni ruského vlivu na tuzemskou ekonomiku.
Česká iniciativa @NEruskerope se snaží upozornit, že obchodování s Ruskem prodlužuje válku, čímž zvětšuje počet ukrajinských mrtvých. @mpo_tweetuje pic.twitter.com/0bvZ56LpnP
— Anastasiia Sihnaievska (@signa_n) September 11, 2023
However, the ministry notes that it is not the state that imports oil but rather the company Orlen Unipetrol, which is 100% owned by Orlen and is the only processor of crude oil in the Czech Republic.
A spokesman for the ministry told ČTK that the country’s only two supply routes for oil are Druzhba from Russia and the TAL pipeline from Italy. But the latter is always contractually full between May and September, and it is therefore not possible to increase oil imports through it during that time.
ČTK notes that Mero in July this year began design work to expand the capacity of the TAL pipeline, with the aim of making the Czech Republic independent of Russian oil by 2025. ČTK also sought comment from Orlen Unipetrol, but reports that the firm has so far not responded.
Česko letos dováží nejvíce ruské ropy minimálně od roku 2012. Částka, kterou za ni Rusku platí, přes 20 miliard, letos výrazně převyšuje víceletý průměr i přesto, že ruská ropa je kvůli válce v rekordní slevě
Suma, kterou Česko platí Rusku za dováženou ropu, letos výrazně… pic.twitter.com/cGTHpuQBa3
— Lukáš Kovanda (@LukasKovanda) September 11, 2023
However, Orlen itself issued a statement yesterday in which it argued that it “has not increased the purchase of Russian for the Czech Republic”, which remains determined by a 2013 contract. But it conceded that the precise amounts arriving can vary over time.
It also reiterated a previous statement issued in June which noted that the “current infrastructure limitations” mean it is impossible to meet the Czech Republic’s oil needs without importing from Russia.
This is why, pointed out Orlen, oil supplies via the Druzhba pipeline were exempted from the EU’s ban on Russian oil imports last year. The firm added that it seeks to find alternatives to Russian oil wherever possible and noted that it no longer imports any Russian oil into Poland.
Stanowisko ORLEN w sprawie sytuacji na czeskim rynku surowcowym: pic.twitter.com/IwH9sTZ96A
— Biuro Prasowe ORLEN (@b_prasoweORLEN) September 12, 2023
In June, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also defended Orlen, saying that “we don’t want to prevent the Czechs from being able to drive their cars”.
The Polish government has offered a similar defence regarding the fact that Poland continues to be the EU’s largest buyer of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) from Russia despite the fact that Warsaw has strongly criticised Western countries for continued Russian energy imports.
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Main image credit: Orlen Unipetrol (press materials)
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.