Russian oil production giant Rosneft said it had ceased operating in Venezuela and transferred its assets to a company own entirely by the Russian government. The move is apparently intended to shield the company from US sanctions aimed at punishing entities that do business with the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
The sale came after two Rosneft subsidiaries were sanctioned by the US for their oil-related activities in Venezuela in the past months.
Rosneft is led by Igor Sechin, a long-term insider of Russian President Vladimir's inner circle. Sechin said the company's move means all assets and trading operations of Rosneft in Venezuela and/or connected with Venezuela will be disposed of, terminated or liquidated.
These include multiple joint ventures, oil-field services companies and trading activities. The name of the new company remains unknown. If the US were to sanction Rosneft in the future, it would be directly sanctioning Putin's government.
The US, along with numerous other nations, considers the Maduro government illegitimate and supporters its challenger, Juan Guaido, who named himself interim president last year. Russia, in turn, supports Maduro. Its economic involvement in the South American country has provided vital cash flows to the government as the country grapples with rampant inflation
Earlier in the week, the US publicly indicted Maduro and top aides on narco-terrorism charges, saying the socialist government converted the Venezuelan state into a system serving drug cartels, money launderers and guerillas from neighboring Colombia who sent cocaine to the US.
One of the figures indicted was Cliver Alcala, a former army general and close associate of Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez. He had retired when Maduro took power in 2013 and became an opponent of the new president, most recently supporting the opposition campaign of Juan Guaido to oust the president.
The former head of Venezuela's military intelligence unit, Hugo Carvajal, is also reportedly discussing his possible surrender to US officials. He similarly faces drug-trafficking charges. Carvajal has been in hiding since November, when a Spanish court approved his extradition to the US. US officials believe he could provide extensive information on the drug activities of Maduro and his circle.