White House Officials Travel to Venezuela to Pressure Key Putin Ally

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks beside Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov (not pictured) at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, February 16, 2022. (Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/Reuters)

Senior U.S. officials traveled to Venezuela on Saturday to hold meetings with the administration of President Nicolás Maduro as the Russian invasion of Ukraine brings renewed attention to Russia’s Latin American allies, according to a new report.

Sources told the New York Times about the scheduled trip, which marks the highest level visit by Washington officials to Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, in years. The delegation includes senior officials from the State Department and the White House, according to the report, and it was not immediately clear how long the group would stay in Caracas or with whom the group plans to meet.

While the U.S. cut ties with Maduro’s administration and closed its Caracas embassy in 2019, U.S. officials have zeroed in on Venezuela as one of Russia’s last remaining international allies as many countries have shunned the Kremlin over the Ukrainian invasion.

After the Trump administration sanctioned Venezuelan oil exports and the country’s senior officials, Maduro turned to Russia, China and Iran for economic and diplomatic help. Since then, Russian energy companies and banks have helped Venezuela to continue to export oil, which is the country’s biggest source of foreign currency.

Ahead of the Russian attack on Ukraine, Russia’s deputy prime minister met with Maduro’s government in Caracas. Maduro has stayed in contact with Putin, speaking at least twice in the past month, according to the report.

The U.S. is both concerned about potential security threats from Russia’s Latin American allies if tensions continue to rise with the Kremlin, as well as hopeful that Latin American autocracies may begin to see Russian President Vladimir Putin as a weak ally, the New York Times reported.

In discussions about potential sanctions against Russian oil and gas exports, some Americans have suggested Venezuela may be able to replace Russia’s oil and gas exports 

During a speech on Thursday, Maduro said Venezuela’s oil is “available for whomever wants to produce and buy it, be it an investor from Asia, Europe or the United States.”

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