Contains selective news articles I select

Archive for the ‘Foralast Section’ Category

Ending Putin’s support of Venezuela no easy feat for US

February 19, 2020

MOSCOW (AP) — In October 2016, the head of Russia’s largest oil company traveled to the birthplace of Hugo Chávez, in the empty, sweltering plains of Venezuela, to unveil a giant bronze statue of the late socialist leader that he and his longtime friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin, commissioned from a prominent Russian artist.

It was a turning point in the relationship between Russia and Venezuela, and Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin brought with him a 600-year-old choir from a Moscow monastery to celebrate. Speaking to throngs of red-shirted government supporters in fluent Spanish gleaned from his days as a Soviet military translator in Africa, Sechin praised Chávez as a “leader of multi-polarity” and a “symbol of an entire era.”

“We have no choice between victory or death,” said Sechin, quoting a Venezuelan independence hero to describe the deepening ties between the two U.S. adversaries. ”We must achieve victory.” Now the Trump administration wants to break up that blossoming alliance as part of its campaign to oust Chavez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro.

On Tuesday, the Treasury Department blocked U.S. companies from doing business with Rosneft Trading SA, accusing the Geneva subsidiary of the Russian state-owned oil giant of providing a critical lifeline to Maduro as he seeks to bypass U.S. sanctions.

For months, U.S. officials have been warning foreign companies that they could face retaliation if they continue to do business with Maduro. Those admonishments have been aimed primarily at Russia, which U.S. officials say handles about 70% of Venezuelan oil transactions that have been rerouted since the Trump administration a year ago made it illegal for Americans to by crude from Venezuela.

Francisco Monaldi, a Venezuelan oil expert at Rice University in Houston, said the latest actions should send a chill through companies in Spain, China and elsewhere that continue to partner with state-run oil monopoly PDVSA. It could also foretell the ending of a special license for Chevron that has so far exempted the San Ramon, California-based company from having to pull out of the country, where it’s a partner in joint ventures with PDVSA that produce about a quarter of the OPEC nation’s total production.

“It’s no longer the dog barking,” said Monaldi. “It’s biting now.” PDVSA in a statement condemned what it called “economic assassination” by the U.S. aimed at taking control of Venezuela’s oil industry. Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the new actions would bolster Venezuela’s lawsuit filed against the Trump administration at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Rosneft operates with PDVSA several oil fields that it acquired after U.S. drillers were forced out by Chavez’s nationalization drive. But as the new, go-to supplier of the country’s pariah crude it wins two ways, according to analysts. First, Rosneft purchases Venezuela’s premium Merey 16 crude at a steep discount. It then uses the proceeds from its sale to pay down $6.5 billion lent to PDVSA since 2014 for the purchase of Russian-made weaponry and other goods.

Meanwhile, refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast that used to depend on Venezuela’s heavy crude have nearly tripled their imports of unfinished Russian petroleum products in the year since sanctions have been in place, according to U.S. Energy Department data.

To avoid complications for customers in China and India, Rosneft has been hiring tankers that try to hide their cargo by turning off their mandatory tracking systems and carrying out risky ship-to-ship transfers off the coast of west Africa and other distant locations.

In the short term, he expects Maduro will have to pay more to find another intermediary to take on the added risk of moving the country’s oil. That means his cash-strapped government will have even less money to import scarce food and medical supplies as well as repair the country’s crumbling electricity infrastructure. And with storage facilities already at capacity, production that is already at a seven-decade low is likely to fall even further, he added.

Still, short of a U.S. naval blockade of Venezuelan ports — a military option that the Trump administration has refused to rule out but has shown no sign of pursuing — nobody expects oil sales from the nation sitting atop the world’s largest petroleum reserves to dry up completely.

“They can find always find ways to sell it, but it’s much harder,” said Monaldi. Even less clear is the impact on the U.S.’ goal of engaging Russia to find a solution to Venezuela’s year-old political impasse.

The U.S. leads a group of now nearly 60 nations that recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader following what it considers Maduro’s fraudulent 2018 re-election. In turn, Russia has accused the Trump administration of spreading false information to engineer a coup, needling the U.S. in what has traditionally been considered Washington’s backyard as the two sides wage proxy battles for influence in Syria, Ukraine and other global hot spots.

Richard Nephew, an energy researcher at Columbia University, said that in sparing Rosneft itself, and only going after one of its many units, the impact on Russia’s continued political support for Maduro is likely to be more muted.

The bulk of Rosneft’s long-term supply contracts are arranged directly by the parent company in Moscow, with the Swiss-based trading unit handling spot sales, he said. The sanctions also include a three-month winding down period, which should give the company — and ravenous oil traders — plenty of time to redirect transactions, including with Venezuela.

In addition, Rosneft and Sechin were already partially sanctioned in 2014 in retaliation for Russia’s annexation of Crimean peninsula in Ukraine. As a result, many U.S. companies had already been steering clear of the company.

“This seems more like a warning shot designed to look bigger than it actually is,” said Nephew, who helped design U.S. sanctions policy while at the State Department under President Barack Obama. “It’s shooting someone who is Russian sounding without really punishing the Russians themselves.”

Several pro-Putin lawmakers were dismissive of the actions, saying they would appeal to the World Trade Organization to remove what they described as unilateral, unlawful U.S. actions. “I think this issue can be resolved,” Vladimir Dzhabarov, a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament, told RIA Novosti news agency. “They’re smart over there (in Rosneft) and they will find a way to get around it.”

But even if Putin maintains outward support for Maduro, it’s unclear if he’ll double down and lend even more money to the bankrupt country. At the height of unrest in 2018, anti-government protesters tried to destroy the Chávez statue dedicated by Russia. Today, it’s under heavy guard, pointing to the uneasy calm that prevails in the normally pro-government Venezuelan countryside, where power outages are an almost daily occurrence and misery widespread.

While Venezuela has stayed current on its debt to Russia, and is expected to pay off the last remaining amount in the coming weeks, it’s defaulted on almost all other lenders and investors in the country’s bonds. Meanwhile, its debt with Russia is backed by a lien on 49.9% of PDVSA’s American subsidiary, Houston-based CITGO, control of which the Trump administration has handed to a board named by Guaidó.

“The Russians are nothing if not good chess players,” Russ Dallen, the Miami-based head of Caracas Capital Markets brokerage, wrote in a recent report. Rosneft’s “choice here will be an important tell for us about the future direction of their policy.”

Goodman reported from Miami.

Putin: No intention to deploy Russian troops in Venezuela

June 06, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — President Vladimir Putin has told reporters that Moscow has no intention to deploy its troops or set up military bases in Venezuela. He added that Russian experts have been in Venezuela to service Russian-made weapons bought by Caracas.

Putin, who was meeting Thursday with the head of international news agencies, was responding to a question about a tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this week that said Moscow had informed Washington it had pulled out its personnel from Venezuela.

“We aren’t creating any bases or sending troops there,” Putin said. “But we will be keeping our obligations in the sphere of military and technical cooperation.” The Russian leader said the U.S. sanctions against Venezuela have hurt ordinary people and warned Washington against using force.

WikiLeaks’ Assange arrested at Ecuador embassy in London

April 11, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Police in London arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy Thursday for failing to surrender to the court in 2012, shortly after the South American nation revoked his asylum.

Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno said a tweet that his government withdrew Assange’s status for repeated violations of international conventions. Moreno described it as a “sovereign decision” due to “repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life.”

Assange took refuge in the embassy in London in 2012 and has been holed up inside ever since. “Today I announce that the discourteous and aggressive behavior of Mr. Julian Assange, the hostile and threatening declarations of its allied organization, against Ecuador, and especially the transgression of international treaties, have led the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable,” Moreno said in a video statement released on Twitter.

Police said Assange has been taken into “custody at a central London police station where he will remain, before being presented before Westminster Magistrates’ Court as soon as is possible.” Video posted online by Ruptly, the agency wing of Russia Today, showed about five to six men in suits forcibly escorting Assange out of the embassy building, surrounding him as he staggered down the steps and boarded a police van.

Police said officers were invited into the embassy by the ambassador following the Ecuador government’s withdrawal of Assange’s asylum. Assange had not come out of the embassy for years because he feared arrest and extradition to the United States for publishing thousands of classified military and diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt thanked Moreno for breaking the impasse, saying on Twitter that Assange “is no hero and no one is above the law.” His arrest came a day after WikiLeaks accused the Ecuador’s government of an “extensive spying operation” against Assange.

WikiLeaks claims meetings with lawyers and a doctor inside the embassy over the past year were secretly filmed. WikiLeaks said in a tweeted statement that Ecuador illegally terminated Assange’s political asylum “in violation of international law.”

Russian air force planes land in Venezuela carrying troops: reports

MARCH 24, 2019

CARACAS (Reuters) – Two Russian air force planes landed at Venezuela’s main airport on Saturday carrying a Russian defense official and nearly 100 troops, according to media reports, amid strengthening ties between Caracas and Moscow.

A flight-tracking website showed that two planes left from a Russian military airport bound for Caracas on Friday, and another flight-tracking site showed that one plane left Caracas on Sunday.

That comes three months after the two nations held military exercises on Venezuelan soil that President Nicolas Maduro called a sign of strengthening relations, but which Washington criticized as Russian encroachment in the region.

Reporter Javier Mayorca wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the first plane carried Vasily Tonkoshkurov, chief of staff of the ground forces, adding the second was a cargo plane carrying 35 tonnes of material.

An Ilyushin IL-62 passenger jet and an Antonov AN-124 military cargo plane left for Caracas on Friday from Russian military airport Chkalovsky, stopping along the way in Syria, according to flight-tracking website Flightradar24.

The cargo plane left Caracas on Sunday afternoon, according to Adsbexchange, another flight-tracking site.

The flights carried officials who arrived to “exchange consultations,” wrote Russian government-owned news agency Sputnik, which quoted an unnamed source at the Russian embassy.

“Russia has various contracts that are in the process of being fulfilled, contracts of a technical military character,” Sputnik quoted the source as saying.

A Reuters witness saw what appeared to be the passenger jet at the Maiquetia airport on Sunday.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Russia’s Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry did not reply to messages seeking comment. The Kremlin spokesman also did not reply to a request for comment.

The Trump administration has levied crippling sanctions on the OPEC nation’s oil industry in efforts to push Maduro from power and has called on Venezuelan military leaders to abandon him. Maduro has denounced the sanctions as U.S. interventionism and has won diplomatic backing from Russia and China.

In December, two Russian strategic bomber aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons landed in Venezuela in a show of support for Maduro’s socialist government that infuriated Washington.

Maduro on Wednesday said Russia would send medicine “next week” to Venezuela, without describing how it would arrive, adding that Moscow in February had sent some 300 tonnes of humanitarian aid.

Venezuela in February had blocked a convoy carrying humanitarian aid for the crisis-stricken country that was coordinated with the team of opposition leader Juan Guaido, including supplies provided by the United States, from entering via the border with Colombia.

Source: Reuters.

Link: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics/russian-air-force-planes-land-in-venezuela-carrying-troops-report-idUSKCN1R50NB.

Trump floats idea of Brazil becoming NATO member

Washington (AFP)
March 19, 2019
President Donald Trump raised the possibility Tuesday that Brazil could become a member of NATO as he hosted far-right President Jair Bolsonaro for security talks at the White House.
“I… intend to designate Brazil as a major non-NATO ally or even possibly, if you start thinking about it, maybe a NATO ally,” Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden.
“I have to talk to a lot of people, but maybe a NATO ally, which will greatly advance security and cooperation between our countries.”
Asked earlier as he hosted Bolsonaro in the Oval Office whether Brazil should be granted NATO privileges, Trump replied: “We’re looking at it very strongly. We’re very inclined to do that.”
“The relationship that we have right now with Brazil has never been better,” Trump added. “I think there was a lot of hostility with other presidents. There’s zero hostility with me.
“And we’re going to look at that very, very strongly in terms of whether it’s NATO or something having to do with alliance.”
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which marks 70 years since its founding in April, last month cleared the way for Macedonia to become its 30th member.
Trump has been unstinting in his criticism of NATO’s European members, accusing them of freeloading on the protection offered by the US military while not spending enough on their own armed forces.
Before taking office Trump called NATO “obsolete” and soon after a NATO summit last July summit he questioned whether the US would honor the alliance’s founding principle of mutual defense for newest member Montenegro.
Source: Space War.

Candidate for EU’s top job slams Greece over Venezuela

February 07, 2019

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The conservative candidate for the European Union’s top job has sharply criticized Greece’s stance on Venezuela’s political crisis, saying Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is “blocking initiatives on a European level” that would support those “fighting for a democratic Venezuela.”

Manfred Weber, who heads the European Parliament’s largest center-right group, said Thursday it was “a tragedy to see how the Greek government is now behaving on (a) European level.” Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president last month, saying President Nicolas Maduro’s re-election in May was fraudulent. The United States and a number of European Union countries have backed Guaido, but Greece’s governing Syriza party has expressed its “full support and solidarity” for Maduro.

Weber is running in May 23-26 European elections to succeed his EPP Christian Democrat party colleague Jean-Claude Juncker to run the European Commission. He told reporters in Athens: “Everybody who has eyes in his head must see that in Venezuela we have a dictatorship, a socialist dictatorship.”

He suggested the European Union should change its decision-making process in foreign affairs from requiring unanimous votes to allowing decisions to be taken through majority votes instead. That, he said, would ensure decisions “are not anymore in the hands of governments like here in Greece which have obviously more contact with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and Maduro and not so much with the free world of democratic countries.”

Weber was in Athens to attend a two-day EPP group meeting. Greece’s left-wing government says it backs an EU initiative to try to find a political solution to the Venezuela crisis but has refused to endorse Guaido. Government officials had no immediate response to Weber’s remarks.

Greek opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a close ally of Weber, said Greece’s support for Maduro had hurt the country’s standing. “I’m very sorry to say this but the position of the Greek prime minister on this issue is a disgrace for our country,” Mitsotakis said. “It isolates Greece and it really reduces our political influence abroad.”

EU chief calls for elections in Venezuela amid aid crisis

February 07, 2019

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — A top European Union official on Thursday called for a peaceful solution to Venezuela’s crisis through free and transparent presidential elections as desperate residents gathered at the Colombian-Venezuela border demanding embattled President Nicolas Maduro allow in emergency food and medicine.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said an international coalition does not plan to impose a solution but is focused on finding answers to avoid violence or foreign intervention within Venezuela.

“We can have different points of view and readings about the causes of the crisis,” Mogherini said. “But we share the same objective, wishing to contribute to a politically peaceful and democratic solution.”

The “International Contact Group” met in Uruguay’s capital to discuss Venezuela’s crisis for the first time since opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido declared himself interim president of the South American nation.

Guaido, who has backing from some 40 countries including the United States, is seeking to oust Maduro following a 2018 election that many countries say was a sham. Maduro has support from several countries, including Russia and China.

Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez is leading the meeting attended by leaders of 14 countries, including Spain, Italy, Portugal and Sweden. But as the gathering got underway, tensions were playing out farther north in the Colombian border town of Cucuta. Humanitarian assistance from the U.S. is in Colombia and is en route to the town over objections from Maduro, who blames the White House for leading a coup against him.

The Venezuelan military has barricaded the bridge at the border crossing between the two countries in a bid to block the aid from passing. About a dozen human rights activists on Thursday stood at the metal gate at the entrance to the bridge on Colombia’s side. They held flags while Colombian police trucks carrying armed officers and other authorities drove by throughout the day.

Venezuelan Luis Escobar said his wife had advanced breast cancer and urged Maduro to accept the aid. In tears, he described how his wife was unable to get treatment in Venezuela and that by the time they were able to see a doctor in Colombia, her illness had significantly progressed.

Escobar says that he doesn’t want other Venezuelans to suffer his wife’s dire fate. “I am here because, unfortunately, my wife is going to die,” Escobar said. “But today I am here for Venezuelans who are suffering the same as my wife. The world has to know about this.”

Associated Press writer Christine Armario contributed from Cucuta, Colombia.

Tag Cloud