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Russia slams U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and promises to back Maduro

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in October 2017. (Yuri Kadobnov/pool/AP)
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in October 2017. (Yuri Kadobnov/pool/AP)

MOSCOW — Russia extended its criticism of the U.S. stance on Venezuela on Tuesday, describing the latest sanctions against the government of President Nicolás Maduro as illegitimate, even as the Russian Finance Ministry acknowledged that its loans to Caracas were at risk because of the crisis.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the new U.S. measures blocking all U.S. revenue from Venezuela’s national oil company were the latest example of Washington using economic sanctions to further U.S. commercial interests. The Kremlin has leveled similar criticism against U.S. sanctions on Russia and Iran. 

“You know the consistent attitude of Moscow toward such actions, which our American colleagues are taking more and more frequently,” Peskov said. “We believe that in most cases, this is an instance of unfair competition.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Jan. 29 U.S. sanctions on Venezuela's state-run oil firm, PDVSA, violate international law. (Video: Reuters)

Maduro is a key ally of Russia in Venezuela, giving Moscow a geopolitical foothold a three-hour flight from Miami. Russia has extended billions of dollars in loans to Venezuela and in December dispatched nuclear-capable bombers to the country in a show of force. 

But it is far from clear that Russia’s influence in the country will be enough to keep Maduro in power. Russian officials have continued to insist that Maduro is Venezuela’s legitimate president and offered to mediate, along with Iran, among “responsible political forces” in the country. But they have not offered details about any specific new help that Russia would be willing to provide to Maduro.

Instead, Russia’s Finance Ministry acknowledged Tuesday that Venezuela’s loan repayments to Moscow may run into some head winds. Deputy Russian Finance Minister Sergei Storchak said it is not clear whether a $100 million payment due from Venezuela in March will arrive on time. 

“There will probably be some problems,” Storchak told reporters, according to the Interfax news agency. “It’ll all depend on the army, on the servicemen, how loyal they prove to be.”

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