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Putin Offers Support For Venezuelan Leader Reelected In 'Sham' Vote

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro at the Kremlin in October 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro at the Kremlin in October 2017.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered support for Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro after the United States, the European Union, and Latin American countries rejected his reelection as a "sham."

"The Russian president wished Maduro good health and success in resolving the social and economic issues facing the country," the Kremlin said on May 21, calling for "national dialogue in the interests of the entire Venezuelan people."

Russia came to Venezuela's rescue late last year with a debt-restructuring deal after it was driven to the verge of default by falling oil prices and tough U.S. sanctions -- sanctions that the United States ratcheted up further on May 21 to counter what Washington sees as Maduro's increasingly autocratic grip on his country.

Maduro won 68 percent of the vote in an election on May 20 that was boycotted by Venezuela's main opposition groups, which were not allowed to put up their most popular candidates and charged the election was rigged.

Even before the election, the United States, Canada, the European Union, and a dozen Latin American countries said they would not recognize the results.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called the election "a sham -- neither free nor fair."

The United States announced a new round of sanctions against Caracas on May 21, with U.S. President Donald Trump calling on Maduro to "restore democracy, hold free and fair elections, release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, and end the repression and economic deprivation of the Venezuelan people."

But while a senior U.S. official said the Trump administration had had "pointed discussions" with Russia and China, Venezuela's two biggest creditors, demanding that they not counteract the sanctions, the Kremlin indicated on May 21 that it will continue to provide Maduro with critical support.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the position taken by the United States and its allies in rejecting Maduro's reelection set a "dangerous precedent" in which "the electoral process does not depend on the position of international observers but on the points of view put forward ahead of time by certain states."

"It is clear that such an attitude will have grave long-term consequences," the ministry said.

Maduro in a Twitter post thanked Putin for "recognizing our triumph," and pledged to continue working with Russia to "build a multipolar world."

Also coming out in support of Maduro on May 21 despite criticism from most other states was Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who hailed the Venezuelan election as "true democracy."

Russia and China are the two main creditors and allies of Venezuela, which owes them an estimated $8 billion and $28 billion, respectively.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and Interfax
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