The Latest: Russia’s Rosneft rejects US claim on sanctions
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The latest on Venezuela’s political and economic crisis (all times local):
Russian state oil company Rosneft has rejected accusations by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that it is violating sanctions on Venezuela.
Pompeo said Monday that Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin — a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — “continues to throw a lifeline” to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. He said Rosneft was buying crude oil from Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA “in defiance of U.S. sanctions.”
Rosneft disputes what it calls “groundless accusations” and says any contracts it has for oil purchasing in Venezuela pre-date the introduction of U.S. sanctions.
Rosneft is a major foreign investor in Venezuela as a partner of state-owned PDVSA, which is under U.S. sanctions. Sechin was personally sanctioned by the U.S. in 2014 shortly after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
12:20 a.m. Tuesday
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the United States is withdrawing the last of its staff from its embassy in Venezuela, citing the deteriorating situation.
Pompeo announced the decision late Monday as Venezuela struggles to restore electricity following four days of blackouts around the country and a deepening political crisis.
The U.S. has led an international effort to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro and replace him with opposition leader Juan Guaido, who vows to hold new a presidential election.
Guaido is backed by some 50 countries, while Maduro maintains support from countries such as China, Russia and Cuba.
Maduro ordered U.S. diplomats to leave in late January but then backed off.
Pompeo says the remaining diplomats in Venezuela will be removed by the end of the week.
The widespread blackouts in Venezuela have brought oil exports to a halt, and financial experts say that is costing the cash-strapped country millions of dollars a day.
Russ Dallen is a Miami-based partner at the brokerage firm Caracas Capital Markets Dallen and he said Monday that Venezuela hasn’t shipped $358 million in oil since the nationwide power failures hit Thursday evening. He said that “the whole system is grinding to a halt.”
Dallen says two large tankers are sitting empty at the Jose offshore oil-loading dock because of the nationwide power failure and at least 19 other ships are waiting their turns there.
The socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro contends the outage was caused by a cyberattack launched from the United States, which seeks to replace him with opposition leader Juan Guaido.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is lashing out at Cuba and Russia for continuing to support Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, saying they are contributing to his country’s economic crisis.
Pompeo says Cuba and Russia are directly responsible for the suffering of the Venezuelan people.
He says that Cuba is the “true imperialist power” in Venezuela. Cuba has made the same accusation against the United States, alleging that the U.S. is after Venezuela’s oil.
But Pompeo told reporters at the State Department on Monday that the U.S. is interested only in the welfare of the Venezuelan people. Pompeo also rejected allegations that the U.S. is responsible for crippling power outages that have hit Venezuela since Thursday.
Spain’s airline pilots union has asked for Spanish airline Air Europa to stop flying to Venezuela after one of its crews was attacked at gunpoint in Caracas.
The Sepla union said Monday that two pilots and eight more crew members of a flight from Madrid were assaulted on Saturday while going from the airport to their hotel in the Venezuelan capital.
The crew told the union that their van was surrounded by men on three motorbikes who later fled after an exchange of gunfire with a person the crew believed to be a plainclothes police officer. None of the crew members was injured.
The union says Air Europa responded to the attack by ordering the crews of flights to Venezuela to not spend the night in the country.
Witnesses say an explosion occurred at a power station in the Venezuelan capital as days of nationwide power cuts imposed increasing hardship on the country.
Flames rose from the electrical facility in the Baruta area of Caracas early Monday, contributing to a sense of chaos among Venezuelans already struggling with an economic crisis and a bitter political standoff.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido says three of four electricity transformers servicing the area were knocked out and that state engineers are unable to fix them. The U.S.-backed leader of the National Assembly has blamed the blackouts that began Thursday on alleged government corruption and mismanagement.
President Nicolas Maduro, meanwhile, has accused Guaido and the United States of staging a “cyberattack” on Venezuela’s power grid. The U.S. dismisses the allegation.