White House

Trump administration threatens financial sanctions against Russia for meddling in Venezuela

President Donald Trump’s special envoy to Venezuela warned that the administration could impose financial sanctions against Russia if it continues to meddle in Venezuela.

Elliott Abrams said he has already delivered a list of options to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, including diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions, that can be employed against Russia if it continues to send military personnel to Caracas.

“I think it would be a mistake for the Russians to think they have a free hand here. They don’t,” Abrams said.

The Trump administration ratcheted up its warnings Friday against Russia and other countries who may be considering sending military personnel to Venezuela by calling the action a direct threat to peace and security in the region.

The Russians caught the attention of the United States and regional allies this week after two Russian planes landed in Caracas filled with about 100 Russian soldiers. The move was largely seen as an effort by the Russians to bolster Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro who the United States and other regional allies are trying to pressure to step down. The United States and other countries have recognized Juan Guaidó as the interim president.

The Russian government told local media the visit was part of scheduled military cooperation and training exercise. But the United States warned that Moscow was exacerbating tensions and undermining efforts to restore democracy in the South American country.

Pompeo earlier warned that the United States wouldn’t “stand idly by” as Russians sent troops into Venezuela. Trump was even more forceful when asked about the Russian activity during his meeting Wednesday with Guaidó’s wife.

“Russia has to get out,” he said.

Abrams praised efforts by Guaidó to establish a path to deliver humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans with help from the International Federation of Red Cross.

The Red Cross announced Friday that it would start distributing humanitarian aid in Venezuela in about 15 days. The Maduro government has already authorized the delivery, according to The New York Times.

Abrams said the goal is for the aid to be delivered to as many as 650,000 Venezuelans based on need instead of prioritized for those who are seen as Maduro supporters.

If successful, this would be the first time that Maduro’s regime has allowed international aid to enter the country and the first time it has acknowledged that humanitarian aid is needed.

“This looks like a real opportunity,” Abrams said. “And we think it’s a response to the efforts of President Guaidó as the interim president has been making. So it’s very welcome. We hope it works.”

Franco Ordoñez is a White House correspondent for the McClatchy Washington Bureau with a focus on immigration and foreign affairs. He previously covered Latin American affairs for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. He moved to Washington in 2011 after six years at the Charlotte Observer covering immigration and working on investigative projects for The Charlotte Observer.