The United States on Tuesday announced sanctions against a subsidiary of Russian state-controlled oil giant Rosneft over its continued trade with Venezuela in defiance of Washington’s attempt to oust leftist President Nicolas Maduro from power.
Officials in President Donald Trump‘s administration said Rosneft Trading SA and Rosneft vice president Didier Casimiro were targeted in the latest measures.
One official, speaking on condition of not being identified, called Rosneft Trading SA “the prime culprit” in helping Maduro minimize the effect of U.S. economic sanctions.
This is “sending a message that we will not stand idly by as foreign, extra-continental or other entities help the Maduro regime maintain and sustain its repression,” he told reporters.
“Rosneft Trading has been the overwhelming provider of trading in the Maduro regime oil and has provided the overwhelming amount of financial resources and hard currency that has been coming in to the Maduro regime. Therefore this action should have a significant impact on the Maduro regime,” the official said.
While officially aimed at the Maduro regime, American sanctions have taken a devastating toll on ordinary Venezuelans, particularly the poor.
An April 2019 study from economists Mark Weisbrot from the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University estimated that U.S. sanctions had resulted in the deaths of about 40,000 Venezuelans between 2017 and 2018.
The economists argue that measures amount to “collective punishment,” creating dire conditions as the Venezuelan people face shortages of food, medicine, and other vital goods and services.
On Tuesday, another administration official, who also asked not to be named, said the sanctions would hit Rosneft Trading SA business in the United States, but also send ripple effects through the company’s wider activities.
Today we sanctioned Russian-owned oil firm Rosneft Trading S.A., cutting off Maduro’s main lifeline to evade our sanctions on the Venezuelan oil sector. Those who prop up the corrupt regime and enable its repression of the Venezuelan people will be held accountable.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) February 18, 2020
“The designation of Rosneft Trading and Didier Casimiro means that anyone outside the United States … runs the risk of being sanctioned themselves,” the official said.
Regime Change Threat
The official said the United States is determined to bring down Maduro through its maximum pressure campaign, which currently is at “50 to 60 percent.”
“We hope never to have to get to 100 percent of maximum pressure,” the official said, responding to a question of whether the United States could ever carry out a military campaign in Venezuela.
Despite U.S. sanctions and Washington’s recognition of opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela, Maduro and his military backers retain a tight grip.
More than 50 countries have joined the United States in recognizing Guido, saying that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.
But Maduro has survived in part thanks to economic, military, and diplomatic backing from Russia, as well as support from China and Cuba.
Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Caracas, where he said U.S. sanctions were illegal and “the main cause of the crisis in the Venezuelan economy.”
Maduro on Monday accused Trump of plotting an invasion and said “we are not afraid of military combat and we are going to guarantee peace.”