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Venezuela Comes In From the Cold Amid U.S. Oil Search

Prodded by rising energy prices, negotiations between the government and opposition are set to resume.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro gestures.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro gestures.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro gestures as his wife, Cilia Flores, applauds during the commemoration of Youth Day in Caracas, Venezuela, on Feb. 12. YURI CORTEZ/AFP

Today, we’re looking at the prospects for U.S.-Venezuela rapprochement, the latest from Ukraine, and more news from around the world.

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Venezuela’s Fresh Start?

Today, we’re looking at the prospects for U.S.-Venezuela rapprochement, the latest from Ukraine, and more news from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Venezuela’s Fresh Start?

It may well be years until we understand the global effects of U.S.-led sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, but some geopolitical realignments are already coming into view.

Take Venezuela, a sanctions-destroyed U.S. adversary and a relative afterthought for the Biden administration, which is now getting a chance to ease its sanctions burden in return for pumping more of its oil.

A U.S. delegation visited Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, over the weekend to discuss the possibility of boosting production as the Biden administration seeks to Moneyball the global oil market amid price spikes driven by uncertainty and new bans on Russian oil imports in the United States and elsewhere.

U.S. urgency is partially driven by the relative cold shoulder it has received from its traditional Persian Gulf partners, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates reportedly ignoring White House pleas to boost oil production to trim prices. UAE officials have since tried to soften the country’s position, but the Saudis remain happy to reap the benefits of high prices.

If the release this week of two imprisoned Americans by Venezuela is any indication, the government of President Nicolás Maduro seems open to a deal.

But as Geoff Ramsey, the Venezuela director at the Washington Office on Latin America, explained to me, focusing only on oil misses the bigger picture. “If the Biden administration was solely interested in replacing Russian oil imports, they wouldn’t be talking to Maduro,” Ramsey said. “The Venezuelan oil industry is so dilapidated and so collapsed that we’re talking about a drop in the bucket.”

Ramsey sees the offer of sanctions relief as a chance for U.S. officials to hit two birds with one stone: getting Venezuelan oil back on the market while also incentivizing the Maduro government to return to the negotiating table with the country’s opposition.

As David Smilde wrote in Foreign Policy on Tuesday, U.S. outreach isn’t likely to peel Maduro away from Russian President Vladimir Putin, but it offers a chance to “shake up the tragic stalemate of Venezuelan politics, where an unpopular authoritarian government is oppressing its people and an opposition movement led by former Popular Will party leader Juan Guaidó has lost its steam.”

So far, the gambit appears to be working, with Venezuela’s government indicating on Thursday that it was ready to kick-start the stalled opposition talks.

The challenge for the Biden administration now lies in keeping its focus on Venezuela for longer than the current energy crisis. “There’s a risk that if the U.S. only goes for the oil, they’ll blow a huge opportunity to advance a negotiated transition to democracy,” Ramsey said. The timing is especially critical for the country’s opposition, as they angle for a fair fight in the 2024 presidential contest.

As the geopolitical deck continues to shift, the United States has another unorthodox ace in the hole—Iran—with a revived nuclear deal now seen as a sure way to speed its oil back onto the world market. That reality may in part explain why Russia has suddenly decided to stall efforts to complete the deal as it reaches the finish line.


What We’re Following Today

The latest on Ukraine. 
•Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said she hopes for a “humanitarian corridor” leading out of the besieged city of Mariupol to work as intended as civilians from the city of 400,000 people seek to flee.

•Satellite imagery shows the massive Russian military convoy near Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, has largely dispersed into the surrounding area, with some artillery appearing to enter firing positions. One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters that Russian forces had moved three miles closer to Ukraine’s capital in the past 24 hours, with some coming within nine miles of the city. 

•Seeking to increase economic pressure, the United States and the European Union will move to suspend normal trade relations with Russia, a move that will increase tariffs on Russian goods.

•U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is in Romania, where she’ll meet with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

•In Moscow, Putin will speak with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto on the phone and play host to Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko in person.

Chile’s president sworn in. Gabriel Boric will be sworn in today as Chile’s president, assuming power from Sebastián Piñera after the left-wing activist defeated the right-wing José Antonio Kast in December 2021 elections. The 36-year-old Boric is set to become not only Chile’s youngest-ever president but also the world’s second-youngest head of state. (The title is currently held by 27-year-old Giacomo Simoncini, one of San Marino’s captains regent.)


Keep an Eye On

Turkmenistan’s election. Turkmenistan holds its presidential election on Saturday, with Serdar Berdimuhamedov, the son of departing President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, expected to come out on top of the nine-candidate field. As Maximilian Hess and Luca Anceschi wrote in Foreign Policy on Wednesday, the familial succession is likely to continue the same policies as before, meaning “ordinary Turkmens will have to endure bad governance, repression, and a grim economy for a few more decades to come.” 

Islamic State’s new leader. The Islamic State named a new leader on Thursday in a statement that, for the first time, acknowledged the death of its previous leader. Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed on Feb. 3 in a U.S. special forces raid in northwest Syria, though the group’s statement said he had died in “recent days.” Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi will now be the groups leader, its third in less than three years.

The BJP’s momentum. Results from Indian state elections strongly backed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with it winning majorities in four states, including Uttar Pradesh—India’s most populous. The election outcome underlines Modi’s formidable position ahead of India’s 2024 elections, and, as Michael Kugelman expressed in Thursday’s South Asia Brief, it highlights the Indian National Congress party’s relative impotence at the ballot box.


FP Live: How to End Putin’s War in Ukraine

Should the West be playing a larger role in Ukraine? What steps should be taken to avoid any nuclear consequences? How far will Russian President Vladimir Putin go? Join FP editor in chief Ravi Agrawal for a live conversation with Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO under former U.S. President Barack Obama and now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, to explore these questions and more on Monday, March 14, at 12 p.m. ET. Subscribers can register here.


Odds and Ends 

The humble jellyfish, the bane of nuclear plants the world over, looks set to torpedo Brisbane’s hopes of becoming home to Australia’s future nuclear submarine fleet over fears that the invertebrate could clog the expensively assembled vessels.

As the Guardian reports, the city is one of three potential bases under consideration by the Australian government, a location marine biologist Lisa-ann Gershwin has warned as “close to the absolute worst place” for nuclear submarines to dock, given the risk posed by the invertebrates who frequently bloom nearby and tend to clog cooling shafts.

Local jellyfish have already caused trouble in Brisbane before, prompting an emergency reactor shutdown of the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier in 2006 when more than 1,700 pounds of the creatures were sucked into the ship’s inner workings.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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