Nicolás Maduro should be quite tense.

The war of his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin against Ukraine is far away from Venezuela.

But the consequences of the sanctions against Russia will be felt directly by the socialist regime in Caracas.

Russia has become an important hub for Venezuela.

Ruler Maduro uses the Russian banking system to circumvent American sanctions and continue to export oil and large quantities of gold.

Caracas needs the foreign exchange to import food and other basic goods to Venezuela.

Economists agree that Russia's exclusion from the international financial system will therefore pose major problems for Maduro.

Tjerk Bruhwiller

Correspondent for Latin America based in São Paulo.

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Already under the impression of the American sanctions, which are aimed at Venezuelan state-owned companies and institutions such as the central bank, among other things, the state-owned oil company PdVSA moved its European branch from Lisbon to Moscow in 2019.

Since then, all financial operations for Venezuelan oil and gold exports have been handled from Moscow, which was previously done directly through the Venezuelan Central Bank.

Apparently, the sanctions could be circumvented relatively easily.

But with the exclusion of Russia's banks from the international transfer system SWIFT, Venezuela is also cut off from its most important international operations.

Moscow's view of gold, copper, diamonds

The Venezuelan government is hiding central bank numbers and key economic indicators.

It is therefore difficult to assess how severely PdVSA and thus the state are affected.

Crude oil no longer has the economic importance of earlier years.

In the past 20 years, Venezuela's production has fallen from 3.3 million barrels a day to under 700,000 barrels due to corruption, mismanagement and a lack of investment.

The oil trade via Russia and other states such as Iran has nevertheless proved to be an important lifeline for the Maduro regime.

Venezuelan gold has become a second lifeline.

Venezuela has large mineral reserves in the Orinoco Basin, in which Russia invested around a billion dollars a few years ago.

Moscow has interests in an area of ​​more than 100,000 square kilometers where there are an estimated 7,000 tons of gold, copper, diamonds, iron, bauxite and other reserves.

The area is contested.

The mines are partly controlled by criminal organizations.

The presence of Colombian guerrilla groups in the region has added complexity to the scenario.

70 to 90 percent of gold is mined and traded illegally, including with the help of high-ranking officials.

investor and creditor

Three years ago, the volume of illegal gold trade from Venezuela was estimated at almost three billion dollars.

Today it should be even more.

It often ends up in Russia or – usually with Russian mediation and logistics – in other countries.

Research was able to show, for example, how deliveries to the United Arab Emirates were organized.

Russia played the messenger.

The handover of the money and then the gold took place in Mali, where the machines from Russia and the Emirates met.

Maduro is dependent on selling the gold.

The government has practically used up the gold reserves of the National Bank in recent years.

Russia is also important to Venezuela as an investor and creditor.

But Putin's interest is now primarily his war chest.

Is there anything left to support allies in Latin America?

In the worst case, given the situation, Moscow will even insist on repaying deferred loans it has granted to Venezuela in the past.

Nicaragua and Cuba will also feel the sanctions against their supporters in Moscow in a similar way, as will the tourism sector in Cuba, which will have to do without the many Russian tourists.

The Russian airlines have suspended their flights to the region, including those to Venezuela, where many Russian tourists have recently been welcomed.

Regionally, the war in Ukraine will make raw materials more expensive, especially oil and gold.

Individual countries and theoretically Venezuela too can benefit from this.

In the short term, however, inflationary pressures will be exacerbated by rising food prices.

Venezuela is completely dependent on food imports, especially wheat deliveries from Russia.

The sanctions are likely to have a very negative impact on these imports.

The optimists among the observers see the situation as an opportunity for the opposition in Venezuela to increase pressure on Maduro.

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