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Rubio Speaks at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine, Condemns Talks with Maduro
Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) spoke during a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing and condemned the Biden Administration’s decision to engage in talks with the Maduro narco-regime of Venezuela. Rubio also warned of the possibility of Russian false flag operations involving biological warfare and discussed Russia’s frozen economy. Video of Rubio’s remarks can be found here and a full transcript is below.
Rubio is a senior member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee On Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues.
The Honorable Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
Rubio: Secretary Nuland, does the United States recognize Juan Guaidó as the president of Venezuela?
Nuland: We recognize his leadership in Venezuela, yes.
Rubio: Do we recognize him as the president of Venezuela? Is that not our official position? It is. So why would we meet with dictator Nicolás Maduro, without telling Juan Guaidó or the [Venezuelan] Ambassador here in the United States that it was happening? … Why wouldn’t we coordinate with them beforehand?
Nuland: … We met with the opposition before that meeting.
Rubio: You met with the opposition after that meeting.
Nuland: … I think it was the other way around, Senator.
Rubio: Well, I assure you, it was after that meeting, and certainly the Ambassador feels that way. He was not aware of it until after that meeting.
You are aware that the Venezuelan oil industry is in shambles after years of mismanagement [and] corruption? It’s a personal piggy bank [for Maduro]. They produce, on a good day, about a quarter of what they used to produce, what we would all remember as Venezuela. And every informed person in the oil industry will tell you that if we were to buy all of it — and we can’t, because some of it’s already contractually committed — it would [have] an insignificant impact on the U.S. economy. But it would be a huge benefit to Maduro. It would be millions of dollars for his personal piggy bank. So is this meeting — the secret meeting that occurred this weekend — is this part of a Russia strategy? Or is it part of a general pivot in the broader Venezuela matter?
Nuland: There’s zero pivot in our Venezuela strategy, Senator. I can only talk about [the meeting] to some extent in this setting. I’m happy to talk to you about it in another setting, if you’d like.
Rubio: Well, it’s not because it’s classified, but because it’s a confidential [meeting] with another country.
Nuland: For a number of reasons. But first and foremost, the mission was about visiting and checking on the welfare of our incarcerated Americans, the CITGO 6 and the other two. And as you know, we have made regular visits to Caracas for that purpose. We were also seeking to get the Venezuelan government back to the table with the opposition in the internationally monitored peace talks. And then there were a number of other things that we discussed that I can talk to you about….
Rubio: Why did [the Maduro narco-regime] leave those negotiations? Do you recall?
Nuland: They left them because they objected to the extradition of one of…
Rubio: Alex Saab.
Nuland: Yes, exactly.
Rubio: The guy that was helping them to steal gold and sell it to Iran.
Nuland: But I think you’d agree that if they were willing to come back to the table with the opposition, that would be a good thing for the opposition’s goals.
Rubio: Actually, I don’t really think it would matter.
Maduro is a habitual negotiator, but [negotiations with the narco-regime] never lead to anything. That’s why the Vatican won’t even host him anymore. Other countries don’t even want to be involved anymore. He uses negotiations the way Putin does, habitually, to divide and demoralize his opposition.
I just don’t understand why we think that cutting a deal with Maduro now to lift sanctions as he, yesterday, bragged on television about that meeting and … mocked Guaidó. That meeting did tremendous damage to the person that we recognize as the president of Venezuela. It’s incredibly troubling. And it would mean nothing, we would notice nothing. [Maduro is] more than happy to agree to negotiations. He uses them to divide the opposition and demoralize them, habitually, the way Putin has done as well.
I only have a minute left. Let me ask you, does Ukraine have chemical or biological weapons?
Nuland: Ukraine has biological research facilities, which, in fact, we are now quite concerned Russian forces may be seeking to gain control of. So we are working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces, should they approach.
Rubio: I’m sure you’re aware that the Russian propaganda groups are already putting out there all kinds of information about how they’ve uncovered a plot by the Ukrainians to release biological weapons in the country with NATO’s coordination.
If there is a biological or chemical weapon incident or attack inside of Ukraine, is there any doubt in your mind that 100 percent, it would be the Russians that would be behind it?
Nuland: There is no doubt in my mind, Senator. And it is classic Russian technique to blame on the other guy what they’re planning to do themselves.
Rubio: Last question: I am certain that the Russians were looking at their foreign reserves as a way to buffer sanctions. But now that we’ve sanctioned the central bank along with others, do we have an idea of what percentage of their reserves are frozen or inaccessible to them?
Nuland: Virtually all of them are now frozen. You notice that the country’s been under currency controls for almost two weeks now. And the whole point of putting so many of these top 10 banks under sanctions is to make it impossible for them to get access to their cash in hard currency.