Russia Offers Warm Words, Little Cash to Visiting Venezuela Ally

(Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez received warm words but few promises of immediate help for her crisis-ridden country during talks in Russia.

Russia will continue to provide “legitimate humanitarian assistance” to Venezuela, which faces a “cynical campaign” by the U.S. and its allies against President Nicolas Maduro’s government, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after talks with Rodriguez in Moscow on Friday. “We think the best way to help the Venezuelans is to expand practical, pragmatic, and mutually advantageous cooperation,” he said.

There are no discussions “at the presidential level” about financial help for Venezuela, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, adding that President Vladimir Putin has no time in his schedule to meet with Rodriguez. “We hope our Venezuelan partners sort out as soon as possible the difficulties, both domestic political and, of course, economic difficulties, that are currently taking place in the country,” Peskov told reporters.

While Russia remains publicly supportive of Maduro as a strategic partner in Latin America, the lukewarm response to pleas for help underscores a growing recognition that Venezuela’s disastrous economy is draining his public support as opposition leader Juan Guaido challenges for power with backing from the U.S. and many regional states. Russia’s senate leader Valentina Matviyenko will hold talks with Rodriguez on Sunday, RIA Novosti reported.

Money, Military

Putin and top officials may sympathize with their ally, but they understand that Maduro’s government is unlikely to survive the crisis in the long term and there’s no point in sending money, said Fyodor Lukyanov, head of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, which advises the Kremlin. Russia won’t dispatch military forces to support the regime, as it did in Syria, because Venezuela is too far away and there’s no reason for Putin to get involved “if the probability is high that it won’t end as we would wish,” he said.

Lavrov accused the U.S. of preparing to arm rebel groups in Venezuela with weapons acquired in Eastern Europe, and said military intervention by Washington couldn’t be ruled out.

Russia along with China has been a major backer of Maduro, with ties dating back to 1999 when his predecessor Hugo Chavez came to power. It extended billions of dollars in loans and investments, most by state-owned oil giant Rosneft PJSC, and is scrambling to protect its interests as U.S. President Donald Trump strives to oust the Venezuelan leader, crippling the country’s economy with sanctions. Moscow has ruled out providing new money to an ally that’s had to have past debts restructured.

Office Transfer

Rosneft, which is headed by a powerful Putin ally, Igor Sechin, has stakes in five Venezuelan oil ventures. The company said last month that Venezuela’s state oil producer, PDVSA, paid off half of its outstanding debt to Rosneft last year, owing $2.3 billion at the end of 2018.

Maduro has ordered PDVSA to move a branch office in Lisbon to Moscow in order to expand cooperation with Rosneft and Gazprom, Rodriguez said. Europe isn’t providing necessary guarantees of the security of Venezuela’s assets, she said.

The office in Lisbon oversaw PDVSA’s partnership with refineries in Sweden and Germany. Venezuela opposition lawmakers have denounced asset transfers from the company’s accounts in Portugal’s Novo Banco. In 2006, PDVSA sold its shares in Ruhr Oil and the office turned to more political work.

Russia and Venezuela plan to hold an intergovernmental commission in Moscow in April to discuss prospects for large-scale projects in areas including energy exploration, pharmaceuticals, IT, and military-technical cooperation, Lavrov said.

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