The Trump administration on Monday slapped sanctions on Venezuela's state-owned oil company, a decision meant to protect the country's assets for opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who the White House recognizes as the legitimate leader of the country, according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The loss of revenue from the United States, the No. 1 buyer of Venezuelan crude, was sure to further hamper the government's ability to import basic goods like food and medicine, exacerbating a humanitarian crisis that has prompted more than 3 million people to flee the hyperinflation-stricken country in recent years.
The measures against state-owned PDVSA were presented as a way of preventing the leftist strongman from looting the coffers in his economically ruined country before he is replaced by the man Washington says is the rightful interim president - opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Ruling left-wing SYRIZA party issued its own statement last week in which it expressed support for "the legitimate President" Maduro.
Guaido said on Tuesday he did not underestimate the threat of imprisonment but did not believe it was "anything new".
The White House's measures to freeze PDVSA's USA assets - including proceeds from oil exports - and limit the company's transactions are an attempt to largely cut off Mr Maduro's access to oil revenue, which accounts for most of the country's income in hard currency.
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Venezuelan social media was alive with theories - that it had brought mercenaries, was there to escort Maduro into exile, or was loading up with gold.
As a lawmaker who also heads the National Assembly, Guaidó has immunity from criminal investigation which can only be removed by a high court.
The military is planning larger exercises on February 10-15, which Maduro said would be the "most important in the history of Venezuela".
PDVSA responded to the sanctions by ordering customers with tankers waiting to load crude destined for the United States to prepay, according to sources.
Valero said in an email that it plans to comply with the sanctions and will re-optimize its crude supply to minimize any resulting impacts. "In this case, this is a continued line on undisguised interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela", the Kremlin spokesperson said.
Storchak said Venezuela owes Russian Federation $3bn, with repayments twice a year of around $100m.
US imposes sanctions against Venezuela's state-owned oil company
Maduro has received backing from China, Russia , Syria and Turkey, as well as longtime allies Cuba and Bolivia. President Donald Trump spoke to key Senate confidant Lindsey Graham about a U.S.
Valero and Citgo are among the largest importers of Venezuelan crude.
The Florida Republican represents a large Venezuela expatriate community and is a vocal opponent of the Maduro regime, which the USA declared illegitimate last week.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the sanctions completely undermined confidence in an worldwide financial system that is dominated by the U.S.
The company sells oil to clients in the U.S., Europe and Asia and requires payment in euros, and buys gasoline and diesel for payment in euros as well.
The trips have apparently paid off, as support for Guaido quickly poured in from right-wing governments in Latin America, in what the Financial Times called an "apparently co-ordinated move".
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