U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Russian Oil Company Supporting Venezuela’s Leader

WASHINGTON — The United States on Tuesday imposed tough economic sanctions against a Russian oil giant that is keeping Venezuela’s ruling government afloat, in a gamble that could roil global oil prices.

The sanctions were levied against Rosneft Trading, a subsidiary of the Russian state-controlled oil company, and Didier Casimiro, who is identified on the company’s website as vice president for refining.

The potential financial hit on global markets represents what the Trump administration has concluded is the cost of pressuring President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela to leave power, nearly two years after he was re-elected in a widely disputed vote.

In a statement, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Rosneft “brokered the sale and transport of Venezuelan crude oil.”

“The United States is determined to prevent the looting of Venezuela’s oil assets by the corrupt Maduro regime,” Mr. Mnuchin said.

Administration officials insisted that the global oil market was stable enough to withstand the new penalties against Rosneft or any entity that does business with it. Officials also said Rosneft’s customers would be given 90 days to unwind themselves from the Russian shipping company — a sign of how difficult it may be for global customers to cut their ties.

The new sanctions are part of what President Trump has described as a maximum pressure campaign against Mr. Maduro, who has led Venezuela’s economy into shambles and prompted an exodus of millions of people into neighboring South American states.

Rosneft sells about two-thirds of Venezuela’s oil, largely to Asia, and often by obscuring the cargo’s source and destination. Officials said Mr. Maduro was taking the profits from the oil sales facilitated by Rosneft to hang onto power, in part by bolstering the Venezuelan military and its harsh crackdown against the public.

Rosneft’s trading subsidiary was created in 2011 to help its Moscow-based parent company carry out foreign projects, including shipping crude oil. In the last few years, faced with American and European sanctions, Rosneft has pushed deeply into places like Cuba, China, Egypt and Vietnam.

Some of its biggest customers are in Asia, where China and India have struggled to procure sufficient oil supplies after the Trump administration imposed sanctions against Iran.

Trump administration officials outlined a series of transactions and planned shipments over the last year — including millions of barrels of crude oil — as evidence of Rosneft’s support to Mr. Maduro. Last month alone, officials said, Rosneft helped deliver 2 million barrels of crude to West Africa from Venezuela.

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Author: New York Times