Russia and the US will soon start talks on the future of Venezuela, which for years has been suffering from a sever economic crisis, hyperinflation, and a shortage of basic necessities, and is now also facing a bitter political crisis.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov arrived in Rome early this week to meet with the US Special Representative for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on 4 March that he is willing to negotiate. The talks will be devoted to the “deterioration of the situation” in the Latin American country, where the economy has shrunk by 33% in the last 6 years, and from which more than 3 million people have been forced to emigrate, according to the US foreign policy department.
Two days before the start of the consultations, Ryabkov said that he will inform the US of the inadmissibility of “forceful interference and other forms of illicit influence on the legitimate government in Caracas”.
Moscow is “concerned” by the possibility of such interference by the US, he emphasized. According to Reuters, Russia has invested $17 billion in the Venezuelan economy in the last 12 years, with $9 billion being invested by Rosneft.
The Russian oil company has already accumulated a loss of nearly $1.5 billion – the difference between its investments and their return. The oil extraction by the joint enterprises has been significantly lower than predicted, and the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA has spent millions of dollars on social projects in remote, sparsely populated locations.
Members of the Venezuelan National Assembly pointed out the possibility of external intervention last week: article 187 of the constitution would allow Juan Guaido, the chairman of the assembly who declared himself acting president in January, to ask foreign countries to send in troops to save the country.
Guiado said that parliament must be ready to take this step “when the time comes”.
At the talks with the US, Russia intends to “search for a way forward” to establish “dialog within Venezuela”, Ryabkov emphasized. “Moscow’s and Washington’s positions on this matter are diametrically opposed, but that’s not a reason not to talk,” he added.
At present, the Venezuelan government under Nicolas Maduro is counting on Russia to help it overcome US sanctions, which have made it impossible for the country to sell oil to the US and its allies.
Caracas hopes that Russia will start to buy Venezuelan oil, the Russian news agency TASS reports, citing the press service of the Azerbaijani Energy Ministry, which was visited on Tuesday by Venezuelan Oil Minister Manuel Quevedo.
“We are fulfilling our obligations to supply oil as part of the prepaid contracts with Rosneft. We also want to expand the collaboration. We have joint enterprises that could increase production,” Quevedo said on Monday.
“We have stopped exporting more than 400,000 barrels to the US, and we are working with our partners, including Russia, to find a sales market,” he added.
According to OPEC, Venezuela’s oil extraction fell by 100,000 barrels per day in February to 1.1 million, nearly the lowest daily volume since 2014.