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Maduro and Putin in 2015. Photo: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

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

Go deeper

39 mins ago - Technology

Ex-N.Y. Post digital chief files lawsuit alleging sexual harassment

Richard B. Levine) (Photo by Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images

Former New York Post editor Michelle Gotthelf is suing her former employer, its parent company News Corp. and two editors, alleging she was reprimanded after complaining to senior executives that she was sexually harassed by retired N.Y. Post editor-in-chief Col Allan. The N.Y. Post issued a statement denying any wrongdoing.

Why it matters: "I felt that I owed it to myself and I owed it to the news organization and the people who answered to me," Gotthelf, who was a long time editor at the N.Y. Post, told Axios in an interview.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Political consultants pocket taxpayer cash

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Members of Congress are turning to the same political consultants who got them elected to blast out taxpayer-funded communications from their government offices, records show.

Why it matters: While those members are barred from politicking with official funds, the firms have expertise in boosting elected officials' images for political gain and are in high demand for both campaign and government work.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Transplants rebound from COVID lull
  2. Vaccines: WHO: No evidence that healthy children, teens need boosters — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America
  3. Politics: Government website for free COVID tests launches early
  4. World: Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older
  5. Variant tracker

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