Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro has made gestures of support to both Washington and Russia since President Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Long-time Russia ally President Maduro has been one of few international figures to assure Putin of his “strong support” over his invasion of Ukraine in a rare backing within the international community.
In a phone call, which reportedly took place the week after the conflict began, the Venezuelan leader also condemned the “destabilising actions of the United States and NATO” and parroted Russia’s accusations of the West spreading “lies and disinformation” about the war.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also met with Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodrigues at a meeting in Turkey last week in which the two countries said they discussed their bilateral relations.
Ms Rodriguez later shared a picture with Mr Lavrov, who has been lambasted by other international leaders over the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine, calling him “our friend Sergey Lavrov”.
However, Mr Maduro has been accused of playing a double-game in the international arena, taking advantage of the conflict in Europe to pit leaders against each other as relations continue to deteriorate rapidly over the Ukraine war.
Just four days after the leader declared his unwavering support for Putin, representatives of President Maduro’s government met with senior US officials in Venezuela for the highest level American visit to the country since 1999.
The leaders met on March 5 to discuss the possibility of easing US sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports ahead of the US imposing a ban on imports of oil and gas.
Following the two-day meeting, Mr Maduro appeared to moderate his support for Putin and called for dialogue between Russia and Ukraine to avoid a “third world war”.
He hailed the landmark talks as “respectful” and “cordial” as Washington appeared to weigh up options for lifting restrictions on Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil refineries, to further isolate Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Venezuela is seen as Russia’s most important ally in Latin America alongside other authoritarian regimes Cuba and Nicaragua.
The oil output of the socialist state is currently growing despite US sanctions which were imposed at the height of the 2019 attempt to topple President Maduro.
The US used to be a key buyer of crude oil from Venezuela until former US president Donald Trump blocked all US revenue from Venezuela’s national oil company in 2019.
Washington cut diplomatic ties with the country under Mr Trump’s presidency when the then-leader backed an unsuccessful attempt to oust Mr Maduro from power by recognising opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president and accusing President Maduro of election fraud.
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President Maduro kept power despite the US’ attempts to provoke a military uprising, largely due to economic support from ally Russia as well as China and Iran.
The meeting between the US and Venezuela this month, therefore, came as a surprise to many onlookers in the international community, with many observers in the US criticising President Joe Biden for agreeing to deal directly with Maduro at all.
Both parties said they discussed “energy security” issues while President Biden’s officials appeared to be sizing up Venezuelan oil as a possible substitute for Russian imports, although Washington insisted there would be no immediate lifting of sanctions.
Both sides also reportedly discussed reopening flights between the two countries which would help combat Venezuela’s isolation which has intensified since 2019.
There were more signals from Carcasas that tensions could be thawing between the countries following the meeting, when President Maduro released two arbitrarily detained American citizens in response to a negotiation that had been pushed for months by US officials.
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Although it does not appear Maduro is ready to give up his ally Russia, experts have said that he seems to be weighing up his options as the ongoing conflict in Ukraine throws world geopolitics into turmoil.
Mariano de Alba, a specialist in international law, told Spanish newspaper El Pais that President Maduro looks to be considering his options in terms of which alliances will help him both improve the country’s staggered economy and ensure he is elected in the upcoming 2024 election.
She said: “Maduro’s big bet was to increase ties with Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, but the results have not come at the speed expected. Now his most important ally is in a rather complicated and long-term situation.”
“Maduro has no intention of betraying Putin, but rather to explore what revenue he can get out of this rapprochement with the United States, making as few concessions as possible, increasing revenues and burying the interim government of Juan Guaidó once and for all to have a better position in 2024.”