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Russian foreign minister visits Venezuela, offers support

Venezuela's Foreign Minister Yvan Gil, left center, and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, talk after a press conference at the Foreign Ministry in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, April 18, 2023.
Jesus Vargas/AP
Venezuela's Foreign Minister Yvan Gil, left center, and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, talk after a press conference at the Foreign Ministry in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, April 18, 2023.

Russia and Venezuela reviewed some of their hundreds of bilateral agreements covering the financial, energy, agricultural and other sectors during discussions between their top diplomats and other high-level officials in the South American country.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Venezuelan counterpart Yván Gil held a joint press conference in Caracas hours after the former arrived in the country in the second stop of a tour of four Latin American nations. Both men vowed continued support for each other’s country and condemned the economic sanctions Washington has imposed on them.

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“We fully support the position of our Venezuelan friends,” Lavrov said. “It is their country ... and we are going to support it in any way so that the Venezuelan economy becomes an independent economy from the pressures of the United States and other western actors.”

Lavrov’s remarks were translated from Russian to Spanish by a government-provided translator.

Officials reviewed some of the hundreds of agreements between both countries covering the financial, energy, agricultural and other sectors.

Gil and Lavrov, who was expected to also meet with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, said their countries are developing an alternative to SWIFT, the system that enables global financial transactions but to which key Russian banks lost access last year. Those banks were cut off as part of economic sanctions imposed on Russia at the start of the war in Ukraine last year.

Russia, along with China, is an unconditional ally of the Venezuelan government. Its support has allowed it to circumvent crippling economic sanctions meant to oust Maduro.

A global drop in oil prices last decade and government mismanagement pushed Venezuela into the political, social and economic crisis that has marked the entirety of Maduro’s presidency. The crisis fueled an opposition movement backed by the U.S. government, which under the Trump administration made forcing Maduro out one of its top foreign policy priorities and used economic sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned energy company to keep the country’s oil — its most valuable resource — out of some Western markets.

The Biden administration has lifted some sanctions and has also signaled it is prepared to provide sanctions relief in exchange for concrete steps by Maduro, such as promising not to ban whatever candidate emerges from opposition primaries later this year.

“We have not perceived an easing of sanctions,” Gil told reporters.

Relief actions already taken by the U.S. government include allowing oil giant Chevron to resume limited oil production in Venezuela on a six-month trial basis and removing a nephew of First Lady Cilia Flores from a list of sanctioned individuals.

Lavrov began his tour of Latin America on Monday with a stop in Brazil, where the administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is seeking to simultaneously develop ties with China, Europe and the U.S. while keeping an open door to Russia. During a visit to Dubai, Lula said that Russia and Ukraine share responsibility for the war.

Lavrov will also visit Cuba and Nicaragua this week.

Even before they were united by a fight against economic sanctions, Venezuela had forged a close relationship with Russia and made multi-million-dollar acquisitions of helicopters, fighter planes and Kalashnikov rifles.

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