U.S. punishes Russian company for helping Venezuela evade sanctions

Supporters of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido demonstrate in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 4, 2019. File Photo by Marcelo Perez/UPI

Feb. 19 (UPI) — The Trump administration said Tuesday it has leveled new sanctions against Russian company Rosneft Trading for actively helping Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro get around existing U.S. penalties.

Officials told reporters the new sanctions target all Rosneft assets in the United States and apply to anyone engaged in business with the Moscow-based firm, which is a subsidiary of Russian oil giant Rosneft. Officials said the move allows 90 days for companies to “wind down” their relationship with Rosneft.

The administration accused Rosneft of overseeing the sale of Venezuelan oil and going so far as to transfer millions of barrels onto other ships at sea so they would not be detected.

The White House said Rosneft is involved with trading an “overwhelming amount” of Venezuelan oil on markets headed for West Africa and Asia. It also said the profits from the sales have been used to support Maduro’s military control in Caracas.

“None of the resources have gone to the people,” a senior White House official told reporters. “It’s going to the forces that help repress the people.”

President Donald Trump signed off on the sanctions. Rosneft is headed by Igor Sechin, an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told reporters that there would be further measures applied against the Maduro regime and those who prop him up in the coming weeks and months.

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“This is a campaign of pressure that began about 55 weeks ago,” he said. “And the pressure continues to mount. I would not say that any individual step can be calculated to bring an end to the crisis, but I think this is a very significant step and I think you will see companies all over the world in the oil sector now move away from dealing with Rosneft Trading.”

Venezuela rejected the sanctions as an attack against its people.

“The Bolivarian government of Venezuela firmly rejects the U.S. unilateral and illegal coercive measures against Rosneft Trading,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said in a statement. “All these arbitrary actions are [proof] that crimes against humanity have been committed against the Venezuelan people.”

Tuesday’s sanctions are part of a U.S. campaign opposing Maduro, whose power over Venezuela has been under challenge for the past year. The United States and many Western governments view Maduro’s presidency as illegitimate, stemming from electoral irregularities, and recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim leader.

Guaido visited the United States earlier this month and was recognized during Trump’s State of the Union address.

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