RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – IBM is getting back in the personal computing business with a boost from Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) and partners in Eastern Europe, Reuters is reporting today.

Just as IBM (NYSE: IBM) sold another big chunk of its remaining stock in PC maker Lenovo, Big Blue announced Tuesday that it had formed a partnership to sell PCs minus Microsoft products in Russia and other countries. Red Hat will provide the open source Linux software as part of the operating system for the PCs.

Only two years ago, IBM quit the PC game by selling its PC division to Lenovo. So what’s going on?

Good question.

According to Reuters, IBM isn’t actually going to build PCs. Rather, it will work with partners in Eastern Europe to acquire them. Part of the consortium is a software distributor in Austria named VDEL and a distributor and IT services firm in Poland called LX Polska. (Interestingly, Lenovo is building a huge PC plant in Poland as part of its effort to gain worldwide market share.)

IBM said it is responding to demand from Russian sources for an alternative to Microsoft products. Thus the PCs will be equipped with Red Hat Linux and IBM Lotus Symphony and will cost about half as much as Microsoft-equipped PCs, IBM added.

So who might be customers?

“It said chief information officers from Russian organizations including the Ministry of Defence, airline Aeroflot and private bank Alfa Bank had been among those who had requested an open-source PC,” Reuters reported.