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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

Collins helps contractor before pro-Susan PAC gets donation

Sen. Susan Collins during her reelection campaign. Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

A PAC backing Sen. Susan Collins in her high-stakes reelection campaign received $150,000 from an entity linked to the wife of a defense contractor whose firm Collins helped land a federal contract, new public records show.

Why it matters: The executive, Martin Kao of Honolulu, leaned heavily on his political connections to boost his business, federal prosecutors say in an ongoing criminal case against him. The donation linked to Kao was veiled until last week.

How cutting GOP corporate cash could backfire

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Companies pulling back on political donations, particularly to members of Congress who voted against certifying President Biden's election win, could inadvertently push Republicans to embrace their party's rightward fringe.

Why it matters: Scores of corporate PACs have paused, scaled back or entirely abandoned their political giving programs. While designed to distance those companies from events that coincided with this month's deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol, research suggests the moves could actually empower the far-right.

8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Kaine, Collins pitch Senate colleagues on censuring Trump

Sen. Tim Kaine speaks with Sen. Susan Collins. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP via Getty Images

Sens. Tim Kaine and Susan Collins are privately pitching their colleagues on a bipartisan resolution censuring former President Trump, three sources familiar with the discussions tell Axios.

Why it matters: Senators are looking for a way to condemn Trump on the record as it becomes increasingly unlikely Democrats will obtain the 17 Republican votes needed to gain a conviction in his second impeachment.

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