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U.S. officials travel to Venezuela, a Russian ally, for talks

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By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters). Senior U.S. officials have traveled to Venezuela to discuss the situation with Nicolas Maduro’s government. They are trying to establish whether Caracas will distance itself from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

This was the U.S.’s highest-ranking visit to Venezuela since years. It is part of an effort by America to discredit Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President. Many analysts see the U.S.-sanctioned Venezuela, which is also a possible alternative source for oil supplies in case Washington attempts to reduce Moscow’s energy exports.

A round of negotiations was held on Saturday between U.S. officials and Venezuelan officials, but no agreement was reached. The source spoke to Reuters under condition of anonymity. The outcome of the meeting was not clear.

New York Times reported first about the State Department and White House senior officials during this visit.

A request for comment was not received by the White House and State Department immediately.

In recent years, the U.S. government has mostly avoided direct contact with Maduro’s socialist government.

In 2019, the two countries severed diplomatic relations amid U.S. diplomatic pressure and sanctions aimed at Maduro (a long-standing Putin ally).

Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration and many other countries considered Maduro’s 2018 reelection fraudulent and recognized Juan Guaido, the opposition leader, as legitimate president.

Maduro was able to retain power thanks to the support of Maduro’s military, as well as Russia’s, China, Cuba, and Iran.

The President Joe Biden administration insists it will not lift the sanctions against Venezuela, including its essential oil sector, unless Maduro takes steps towards free and fair elections.

While Venezuela’s oil exports took a significant hit, Russian oil firms and banks played a crucial role in helping Maduro (and the state-run PDVSA) evade U.S. Sanctions and to continue shipping.

There is increasing pressure on America and its allies to punish Russia further for the military aggression against Ukraine. This includes sanctions on Russia’s oil-and gas exports. The White House stated that all options are available.

Some analysts have suggested that Venezuelan sanctions could be relaxed, but critics argue Maduro shouldn’t be allowed to profit from it without changing his behaviour.

Venezuela blamed NATO and the United States for Ukraine’s crisis on February 25, but expressed concern over “the worsening crisis.” Cuba and Nicaragua also supported Putin’s position on Ukraine.

According to Interfax, Putin and Maduro spoke by phone on March 1, discussing the Ukraine situation and discussing ways of strengthening a partnership between Russia, Venezuela and Russia.

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