The United States on March 11 imposed sanctions on a Russian bank over its dealings with Venezuela's state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Russia's state-controlled Rosneft oil company was defying U.S. sanctions by buying oil from PDVSA.
The U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement on March 11 that as "the Treasury has continued to escalate the use of sanctions against the illegitimate regime of former President Nicolas Maduro, the net assets of Evrofinance Mosnarbank (Evrofinance) bank grew over 50 percent during 2018."
Moscow-based Evrofinance Mosnarbank was founded in 2011 and is jointly owned by a group of Russian banks and Venezuela's National Development Fund.
The United States and more than 50 governments recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president of the country. They say Maduro wasn't legitimately reelected last year because opposition candidates weren't permitted to run.
"The illegitimate Maduro regime has profited off of the suffering of the Venezuelan people," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement.
"This action demonstrates that the United States will take action against foreign financial institutions that sustain the illegitimate Maduro regime and contribute to the economic collapse and humanitarian crisis plaguing the people of Venezuela."
Pompeo said that, by buying oil from PDVSA, Rosneft was helping Maduro's government.
Speaking to reporters, Pompeo said Russia and Cuba had helped create the crisis in Venezuela.
"Russia's state-owned oil company, Rosneft, continues to purchase crude oil cargoes from PDVSA, Venezuela's state-owned oil company, in defiance of U.S. sanctions. And Rosneft's CEO, Igor Sechin, continues to throw a lifeline to the regime," Pompeo said.
Separately, U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton wrote on Twitter on March 11: "Bankers: Do not help Maduro and his accomplices steal the assets of the Venezuelan people. The United States is watching. The world is watching. The Venezuelan people are watching."
Evrofinance Mosnarbank said in a statement to its clients on its website that it was operating in a "stable manner" and would "fulfill all of its obligations towards clients and partners."
Gazprombank, which is Russia's third-biggest lender and includes among its shareholders Russian state gas company Gazprom, said in a statement that the U.S. Treasury decision would not affect it.
"Gazprombank has a minority stake in Evrofinance Mosnarbank," it said. "Gazprombank does not carry out operations on the accounts of companies that are sanctioned by the U.S. over Venezuela."