Venezuela’s Maduro cuts ties with US after Trump backs rival, Kremlin warns of dangerous actions

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president on Wednesday, winning the backing of Washington and many Latin American nations and prompting socialist Nicolas Maduro to break relations with the United States. (Reuters)
Updated 25 January 2019
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Venezuela’s Maduro cuts ties with US after Trump backs rival, Kremlin warns of dangerous actions

  • Russia has warned of bloodshed if the US intervenes further in Venezuela
  • Juan Guaido declared himself interim president with the backing of Donald Trump

MOSCOW/BRUSSELS: Russia accused the US on Thursday of trying to usurp power in Venezuela and warned against military intervention, putting it at odds with Washington and the EU which backed protests against one of Moscow’s closest allies.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim leader on Wednesday, winning the support of Washington and parts of Latin America. That prompted socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who has led the oil-rich nation since 2013, to sever diplomatic ties with the US. 

The prospect of Maduro being ousted is a geopolitical and economic headache for Moscow which, alongside China, has become a creditor of last resort for Caracas, lending it billions of dollars as its economy implodes. Moscow has also helped its military and oil industry and provided wheat.

Russia on Thursday accused Washington of stoking street protests and called Maduro the legitimate president.

“We consider the attempt to usurp sovereign authority in Venezuela to contradict and violate the basis and principles of international law,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said an outside military intervention could have “catastrophic consequences.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan offered support for Maduro too. “My brother Maduro! Stand tall, we stand by you!” presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, writing on Twitter, quoted Erdogan as saying. China also said it supported efforts to protect Venezuela’s independence and stability.

The EU, which has imposed sanctions on Venezuela and boycotted Maduro’s swearing-in for a second term earlier this month, took a more nuanced tack.

Although it stopped short of following Washington and recognizing Guaido as interim president, it appealed for him to be protected and appeared to support calls for a peaceful transition of power away from Maduro.

“The people of Venezuela have massively called for democracy and the possibility to freely determine their own destiny. These voices cannot be ignored,” the 28-nation bloc said.

The biggest group in the European Parliament, the center-right European People’s Party, said it recognized Guaido as interim president and would call on the whole Parliament to do so next week as a senior lawmaker urged Maduro to quit.

French President Emmanuel Macron saluted Venezuelans marching for freedom. Germany, Switzerland and Portugal called for free elections, and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told Guaido he supported the Venezuelan Parliament.

Britain said Maduro’s 2018 election was neither free nor fair and expressed support for Guaido.

There was nervousness about how far the EU could go however.

“The problem is that we can’t recognize somebody who was not elected democratically,” said one EU diplomat. “That would create a dangerous precedent for any other person who would want to proclaim themselves the president of something.”


Manafort ‘brazenly violated the law’ for years, says US special counsel Mueller

Updated 24 February 2019
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Manafort ‘brazenly violated the law’ for years, says US special counsel Mueller

  • Prosecutors said that “upon release from jail, Manafort presents a grave risk of recidivism”
  • Manafort is already facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison in a separate tax and bank fraud case
WASHINGTON: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort committed crimes that cut to “the heart of the criminal justice system” and over the years deceived everyone from bookkeepers and banks to federal prosecutors and his own lawyers, according to a sentencing memo filed Saturday by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
In the memo, submitted in one of two criminal cases Manafort faces, prosecutors do not yet take a position on how much prison time he should serve or whether to stack the punishment on top of a separate sentence he will soon receive in a Virginia prosecution. But they do depict Manafort as a longtime and unrepentant criminal who committed “bold” crimes, including under the spotlight of his role as campaign chairman and later while on bail, and who does not deserve any leniency.
“For over a decade, Manafort repeatedly and brazenly violated the law,” prosecutors wrote. “His crimes continued up through the time he was first indicted in October 2017 and remarkably went unabated even after indictment.”
Citing Manafort’s lies to the FBI, several government agencies and his own lawyer, prosecutors said that “upon release from jail, Manafort presents a grave risk of recidivism.”
The 25-page memo, filed in federal court in Washington, is likely the last major filing by prosecutors as Manafort heads into his sentencing hearings next month and as Mueller’s investigation approaches a conclusion. Manafort, who has been jailed for months and turns 70 in April, will have a chance to file his own sentencing recommendation next week. He and his longtime business partner, Rick Gates, were the first two people indicted in the special counsel’s investigation. Overall, Mueller has produced charges against 34 individuals, including six former Trump aides, and three companies.
Manafort’s case has played out in stark contrast to those of other defendants in the Russia investigation, such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who prosecutors praised for his cooperation and left open the possibility of no jail time.
Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy arising from his Ukrainian political consulting work and his efforts to tamper with witnesses. As part of that plea, he agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team, a move that could have helped him avoid a longer prison sentence. But within weeks, prosecutors say he repeatedly lied to investigators, including about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate who the US says has ties to Russian intelligence. That deception voided the plea deal.
The sentencing memo comes as Manafort, who led Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for several critical months, is already facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison in a separate tax and bank fraud case in Virginia. Mueller’s team endorsed a sentence of between 19.5 and 24.5 years in prison in that case.
Prosecutors note that the federal guidelines recommend a sentence of more than 17 years, but Manafort pleaded guilty last year to two felony counts that carry maximum sentences of five years each.
Prosecutors originally filed a sealed sentencing memo on Friday, but the document was made public on Saturday with certain information still redacted, or blacked out.
In recent weeks, court papers have revealed that Manafort shared polling data related to the Trump campaign with Kilimnik. A Mueller prosecutor also said earlier this month that an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik goes to the “heart” of the Russia probe. The meeting involved a discussion of a Ukrainian peace plan, but prosecutors haven’t said exactly what has captured their attention and whether it factors into the Kremlin’s attempts to help Trump in the 2016 election.
Like other Americans close to the president charged in the Mueller probe, Manafort hasn’t been accused of involvement in Russian election interference.