Venezuela’s Maduro heading for Russia on official visit ‘in a few hours’

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President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro has announced he would be leaving for Russia, to meet with his counterpart Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin previously said that the visit has been in the works, but the exact timing was unknown.

Maduro announced his upcoming visit during a policy meeting, broadcast live on Twitter on Monday evening, saying that he would depart for Russia “in a few hours, tonight.”

In a few hours, tonight, I am going on an official visit to Russia, to meet with our friend and fellow President Vladimir Putin, with his team, with important business groups in Russia

In addition to sitting down with the Russian president and other government officials, Maduro said he plans to meet with local business leaders. One of the items on his agenda is to boost the economic, social and cultural ties between the two nations.

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Maduro’s trip to Russia has been widely anticipated. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that the preparations for his visit have been underway, while not announcing the exact date when it is supposed to take place.

There have been rumors that the two leaders might meet on the sidelines of the Valdai Club, an annual international forum in Sochi, scheduled to take place from September 30 to October 3 this year. On Monday, Peskov appeared to confirm that the Russian Black Sea resort would host the upcoming Maduro-Putin meeting, noting that three high-level meetings are planned for the Russian leader at the Valdai Club, including with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

The meeting would be the first since Venezuela’s US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido proclaimed himself “interim president” in January. While Guaido failed to amass sufficient support from the military to topple the government in wake of a botched coup attempt on April 30, he has been heavily backed by the US allies in the region, with Washington openly calling for a regime change in Venezuela, having strangled its already debilitated economy with rounds of crippling sanctions.

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Facing the onslaught of sanctions, Maduro turned to Venezuela’s international allies. In addition to Russia, Cuba, China, Turkey and several other nations continue to stand with the government in Caracas.

One of the reasons for Maduro’s last-minute announcement might have been fear of fake news. During the April coup attempt, US officials said that Maduro was preparing to flee the country to Cuba, but Russia persuaded him to stay. Both Maduro and Moscow laughed off the claims as propaganda.

Last time Putin and Maduro met, in December 2018, Caracas and Moscow inked some $5 billion worth of contracts related to oil production. In March, Maduro directed Venezuela’s state-run energy giant PDVSA to relocate its European HQ to Russia, after the White House blocked payments to the company’s accounts and told byers of Venezuela’s oil to channel funds to Guaido’s accounts instead.

In late January, the US froze $7 billion of assets belonging to PDVSA and its US subsidiary Citgo, with the US court in August confirming the new board of Citgo directors ‘appointed’ by Guaido.

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