U.S. targets Russian oil giant in escalating campaign vs. Venezuela
The Trump administration today announced sanctions on Rosneft Trading, a subsidiary of Russian oil giant Rosneft, for helping to keep Venezuela's Maduro regime afloat by facilitating oil exports.
Why it matters: Senior administration officials announcing the sanctions in a call with reporters framed the step as a warning not only to Rosneft but to Russia. They described it as part of a "maximum pressure" campaign that is currently "50-60%" implemented and will continue to ramp up as long as Nicolás Maduro refuses to give up power.
The big picture: It has been 13 months since the U.S. recognized National Assembly President Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's rightful leader and warned that Maduro's days in power were numbered.
- Venezuela slipped down the administration's priority list following a failed uprising there last April. In Venezuela, hopes have sagged and momentum stalled.
- But Guaidó continues to have bipartisan support in Washington. He finished a recent international tour with an appearance at the State of the Union.
Details: One administration official described Rosneft Trading as the "gravest violator" of U.S. restrictions on conducting business with the Maduro regime. The firm's chairman, Didier Casimiro, was also sanctioned.
- Another official described a "growing and increasingly central role of Rosneft in the affairs of Venezuela, particularly in the last year."
- An estimated 70-80% of Venezuela's oil exports are handled by Russian firms, primarily Rosneft, per the Washington Post.
- Those revenues help the Maduro regime sustain itself and keep key officials and military officers in the fold.
- Rosneft stock fell on news of the sanctions.
Asked how additional sanctions would help achieve the end goal of democratic elections in Venezuela, a senior administration official said support from the likes of Rosneft and the Cuban government had given Maduro a "false sense of confidence."
- Still, the official claimed, there are signs Maduro is considering his options should he have to "exit physically or politically" or make way for a new presidential election.
Flashback: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed following the attempted overthrow of Maduro last April that it was the Russians who convinced Maduro not to flee.
- An official on the call today accused Russia of complicity with Maduro's abuses and "death squads."
What to watch: There was considerable speculation last year about a possible U.S. or U.S.-backed military intervention to oust Maduro. That has died down, though an administration official reiterated on the call that "all options are on the table."
Go deeper: Maduro survives 2019