Russia's foreign minister is visiting Venezuela in a show of support for Nicolas Maduro, as Moscow tries to bolster the South American country's president amid a collapsing economy and the threat of more U.S. sanctions.
Sergei Lavrov's visit on February 7 followed suggestions from the U.S. State Department that Washington might expand Venezuela-targeted sanctions to include Russian oil companies that have helped Maduro.
Speaking at a joint press conference in Caracas after talks with Maduro, Lavrov vowed to boost bilateral trade between the two countries and to develop cooperation in the energy, mining, medical, and agricultural sectors.
During an earlier televised meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart, Jorge Arreaza, Lavrov slammed U.S. sanctions against Venezuela as "unacceptable."
Earlier in the week, U.S. President Donald Trump hosted opposition leader Juan Guaido at the White House. Guaido is recognized by nearly five dozen countries as Venezuela's rightful president.
During Guaido's visit, Trump stressed Washington’s commitment to ending what he called the "corrupt and violent dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro."
"Maduro's grip on tyranny will be smashed and broken," Trump said in a speech.
Lavrov arrived in Caracas on February 6, the same day that the U.S. special representative to Venezuela warned that Russia's support for Maduro's government may "no longer be cost free."
"The rules about sanctions can always change," Elliott Abrams told reporters in Washington. "The licenses that are given can be withheld, those that are withheld can be given."
Existing U.S. sanctions include exceptions that allow U.S. companies like Chevron to continue buying Venezuelan oil.
Rosneft, the Russian state oil giant, works closely with its Venezuelan counterpart, Petroleos de Venezuela, in South America.
Venezuela's once-bustling economy has all but collapsed, fueling inflation that has neared 10,000 percent. According to the UN, millions have fled the country looking for food and employment.