Source: US officials travel to Russia’s ally Venezuela for talks

file image. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivers his annual State of the Nation Address during a special session of the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, January 12, 2021. REUTERS/Manor Quintero

Written by Matt Spitalnik

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior US officials traveled to Venezuela on Saturday for talks with President Nicolas Maduro’s government, seeking to determine whether Caracas is ready to distance itself from close ally Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine, the Guardian reported. Someone familiar with the matter.

The visit, the highest US visit to Venezuela in years, comes as part of a US attempt to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin. Some analysts also see Venezuela, which is under US sanctions, as a possible alternative source of oil supplies if Washington tries to restrict energy shipments from Moscow.

The source told Reuters, who asked not to be named, that US and Venezuelan officials held a round of talks on Saturday, but they did not reach any agreement. It was not clear if a new meeting would take place.

The visit, which involved senior officials from the White House and State Department, was initially reported by The New York Times.

The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Venezuela’s Ministry of Information did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

The US government has largely avoided direct contact with the Maduro government in recent years.

The two countries cut diplomatic ties in 2019 amid a campaign of sanctions and diplomatic pressure aimed at ousting Maduro, a longtime Putin ally, from office.

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The administration of former US President Donald Trump and dozens of other countries considered Maduro’s re-election in 2018 a fraud and instead recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate president.

But Maduro has retained power with the support of the military, as well as Russia, China, Cuba and Iran.

The administration of President Joe Biden has insisted that it will not lift sanctions, including on Venezuela’s vital oil sector, unless Maduro takes concrete steps to hold free elections.

While Venezuela’s oil exports have taken a major hit, Russian oil companies and banks have played a key role in helping Maduro and state oil company PDVSA evade sanctions and continue shipments.

The United States and its allies have come under increasing pressure to punish Russia for its military attack on Ukraine by imposing sanctions on Russian oil and gas exports, and the White House said all options remained on the table.

Some commentators have suggested that easing sanctions on Venezuela may provide an alternative source of global energy supply, although critics say Maduro should not be allowed to profit without changing his behaviour.

On February 25, the Venezuelan government blamed the United States and NATO for the crisis in Ukraine, although it expressed “concern that the crisis will worsen.” Cuba and Nicaragua also defended Putin’s position on Ukraine.

The Kremlin quoted the Interfax news agency as saying that in a phone call on March 1, Putin and Maduro discussed the situation in Ukraine and talked about increasing the strategic partnership between Russia and Venezuela.

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(Matt Spitalnick reports).

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