US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday blamed Russia and Cuba for causing Venezuela’s crisis by supporting President Nicolas Maduro and said he had urged India not to help Maduro by buying Venezuelan oil.
His comments came after the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Russian bank Evrofinance Mosnarbank for helping Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA evade US financial restrictions.
“This story is not complete without acknowledging the central role Cuba and Russia have played and continue to play in undermining the democratic dreams of the Venezuelan people and their welfare,” Pompeo told reporters.
The Trump administration has taken several steps in recent weeks to ratchet up pressure on Maduro and bolster Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by the United States and several other states as the interim president.
However, Maduro, who has accused Guaido of a US-directed coup attempt, retains the backing of Russia and China as well as control of state institutions including the military.
Earlier on Monday, Pompeo met with India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale at the State Department and among topics was India’s purchases of oil from Maduro’s government.
“We are asking the same thing of India as we are of every country: do not be the economic lifeline for the Maduro regime,” Pompeo said, declining to give specifics of the talks.
The Indian market is crucial for Venezuela’s economy. It has historically been the second-largest cash-paying customer for the OPEC country’s crude after the United States, which through sanctions against Maduro has handed control of much of the revenue to Guaido.
Earlier, the US Treasury said all US assets of Evrofinance, described as jointly owned by Russian and Venezuelan state-owned companies, would be frozen and US citizens prohibited from doing business with it.
“Russia’s state-owned company, Rosneft, continues to purchase crude oil cargoes from PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, in defiance of US sanctions. And, Rosneft’s CEO, Igor Sechin, continues to throw a lifeline to the regime,” he said.
Washington has called on foreign banks to ensure that Maduro and Venezuelan government officials are not hiding financial assets abroad.
Evrofinance was set up in 2011 with Venezuela’s National Development Fund, commonly known as FONDEN, taking a 49 percent stake in the bank, the Treasury Department said.
Russia’s Gazprombank and the Russian state bank VTB Bank each took a 25 percent interest in Evrofinance, which was founded as a bi-national bank to fund joint Russia-Venezuela oil and infrastructure projects, the department said.
Evrofinance was the primary international financial bank that helped finance a Venezuelan crypto-currency, the petro, which launched last year in an attempt to “circumvent” US sanctions, the Treasury Department said.
Evrofinance said in a statement on its website that it was operating in a “stable manner” and will “fulfill all of its obligations toward clients and partners.”
Gazprombank, which is Russia’s third biggest lender by assets and includes among its shareholders Russian state gas company Gazprom, said in a statement that the US Treasury decision would not affect it.