US officials visit Russia’s ally Venezuela as the West isolates Putin

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US officials visit Russia’s ally Venezuela as the West isolates Putin

Senior US officials are traveling to Venezuela on Saturday to meet with President Nicolas Maduro’s government, according to people familiar with the matter, as the Biden administration advances efforts to isolate Russia from its remaining international allies amid a widespread standoff over Ukraine. Increases.

The visit is the highest-level visit by Washington officials to Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, in years. The United States severed diplomatic ties with Maduro and closed its embassy in Caracas in 2019 after the authoritarian leader was accused of election fraud. The Trump administration then tried to topple Mr. Maduro’s government by sanctioning Venezuela’s oil exports and the country’s senior officials and recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president.

Mr Maduro responded to the sanctions by seeking economic and diplomatic help from Russia as well as Iran and China. Russian energy companies and banks have been instrumental in allowing Venezuela to continue exporting oil, which is the country’s biggest source of foreign exchange, despite sanctions, according to US officials, Venezuelan officials and businessmen.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted the United States to pay more attention to President Vladimir V. Putin’s allies in Latin America, according to current and former US officials who spoke on the condition that the standoff with Russia deepens. Washington believes there could be security threats. Anonymity matters to discuss sensitive policy matters.

As Russia’s economy continues to crumble, the US is seizing an opportunity to advance its agenda amid a Latin American autocracy that may begin to see Mr Putin as an increasingly vulnerable ally.

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When the US and its allies began considering sanctions on Russian oil and gas exports this month to punish the country for the devastation in Ukraine, leading voices from both major US political parties slammed Venezuela as a possible alternative. as indicated.

Well-connected Republicans have been involved in talks about restarting the oil trade, including Congressman Scott Taylor, a former Republican from Virginia, working with Washington lobbyist Robert Stryke, who in 2020 called Mr. Briefly registered and kept in touch to represent Maduro’s regime. with the people around it.

Mr Taylor said he spoke to a Venezuelan businessman on Friday night, who indicated Mr Maduro’s team is eager to reunite with the United States.

“We must use this opportunity to achieve a diplomatic victory and an agreement between Russia and Venezuela,” he said in a statement.

Former Fox News host and conservative media personality Trish Regan called for an alliance with Venezuela to remove Russian oil from the US market.

“Venezuela has by far the biggest source of oil reserves, we’re handing it over to the Chinese and the Russians?” she wrote on twitter on Friday.

Shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Yuri Borisov, went to Caracas to meet Mr. Maduro’s officials. According to statements from both governments, Mr. Maduro has spoken to Mr. Putin on the telephone at least twice in the past month.

It is not clear how long the US delegation, which includes senior officials from the State Department and the White House, will be in Caracas or with whom the group will meet. Mr. Maduro and spokesmen for the State Department and the National Security Council in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.

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Before the US imposed sanctions, Venezuela sent most of its oil to the US Gulf Coast, whose refineries were built specifically to process Venezuelan heavy grades of crude.

If the United States curbs imports of Russian oil, Venezuela will be able to replace some of the lost supply, said Francisco Monaldi, a Venezuelan energy expert at Rice University in Houston.

Mr Maduro appeared ready to discuss oil deals with the United States.

“Here’s Venezuelan oil that wants to produce and buy it, whether it’s an investor from Asia, Europe or the United States,” he said in a public speech on Thursday.

Mr. Maduro and other Russian allies in Latin America have begun to distance themselves from the war in Ukraine. Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba did not vote or vote on two resolutions proposed at the United Nations this week to condemn the Russian aggression, and the leaders of Venezuela and Cuba have called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Sheela Urdneta Contributed reporting from Maracaibo, Venezuela.

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