Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin visited Venezuela and Cuba last week as part of moves by Moscow to strengthen economic and political ties with its traditional Latin American allies.

Sechin held talks in Havana and Caracas to advance energy cooperation, including in oil supplies and production.

His trip followed a tour of the same capitals by Russia’s Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev to discuss collaboration between security services and law enforcement agencies.

The Russian tours coincided with a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to former Soviet Union countries in Central Asia.

Rosneft didn’t comment on Sechin’s talks in Cuba and Venezuela but Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) said on its website that Sechin had a meeting with Oil Minister Tareck el-Aissami.

“The meeting served to deepen the relationship in Venezuelan oil production and the exchange of technology that favor productive efficiency,” according to PDVSA.

El-Aissami called Sechin “our good friend,” adding that “we have defined a work agenda to increase crude oil production, and to advance new business opportunities.”

Still Involved 

Rosneft formally withdrew from Venezuela in 2020 because of US sanctions against the Latin America country and PDVSA. The Russian major sold its stakes in five Venezuelan joint ventures to compatriot Roszarubezhneft, a state-owned company that was set up for the specific purpose of acquiring Rosneft’s Venezuelan assets.

Those assets included 40% each in Petromonagas, Petroperija and Petrovictoria, 32% in Petromiranda and 26.7% in Bouqueron.

At Sechin’s meeting with el-Aissami in Caracas on Mar. 5, the general director of Roszarubezhneft, Alexander Khramov, was present together with PDVSA President Rafael Tellechea, PDVSA said.

Khramov used to be director of Rosneft’s department on managing gas assets and projects. In February 2022, he was also appointed a member of Rosneft’s management board, Russian Interfax news agency reported then. Rosneft declined to comment on whether Khramov still holds his posts with the Russian oil producer.

Some experts in Russia say it could make sense for Rosneft to stop being shy of its relations with Venezuela and other sanctioned countries and companies since the Russian major has been blacklisted by the US and the EU as well.

Information about the Russian-Venezuelan joint ventures’ production is scarce. Their combined output stood at 173,000 barrels per day in 2018, according to Rosneft, whose share was 67,000 b/d. Sources say that last year their combined production was about 100,000 b/d.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak during his visit to Caracas at the end of last year also discussed increasing production by the joint ventures.

Monitoring US Steps 

Moscow is watching closely efforts by US companies to return to Venezuela, which possesses the biggest oil reserves in the world.

The US authorities renewed last year Chevron’s license to operate in Venezuela, while other US upstream payers and refiners are also believed to be in the hunt for permission to do Venezuelan business.

This would much depend on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s commitment to free and fair elections in 2024 as insisted on by Washington. Maduro indicated last year he was ready for negotiations with the US in exchange for the lifting of the oil embargo from his country.

Cuban Heat 

The aim of Sechin’s visit to Havana remains unclear. Sechin said in a meeting with President Miguel Diaz-Canel that when it comes to issues related to Cuba, “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin supervises them directly and personally,” Diaz-Canel’s office said in a statement released via Twitter.

Sechin also met with Cuban Vice Prime Minister Ricardo Cabrisas to discuss “mutual collaboration, especially concerning the energy sector,” according to the Cuban side.

Rosneft hasn’t been very active in Cuba. It has an agreement with Cupet to enhance crude oil production at the state-run Cuban firm’s Varadero-East Central Block.

Some reports suggest that oil products supplies could have been on the agenda. Cuba is struggling in an economic crisis and is facing widespread shortages, including food, medicine and fuel.

Russia, on the other hand, needs markets for its oil products following the G7 embargo on Russian oil imports because of the war in Ukraine. The terms of such supplies could be tricky because of Cuba’s financial squeeze. Shipping data showed, however, that Cuba appeared among the takers of Russian crude.

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