Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's embattled president, told Russian state media that he was prepared to negotiate with the country's opposition, claiming he was negotiating international mediation to solve the crisis.
In a late Wednesday interview with Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, Maduro said his foreign minister was in negotiations with several countries and that the issue of international mediation could be resolved in the "coming hours".
"I am ready to sit at the negotiating table with the opposition so that we can speak for the benefit of Venezuela, for peace and its future," said Maduro.
But hours earlier, Maduro's Attorney General announced that he had opened a criminal investigation against the opposition leader. Juan Guaidó and asked to leave the country. Venezuela's Supreme Court has upheld the petition of Attorney General Tarek William Saab, accusing Guaidó of "undermining the peace of the nation."
Maduro told the RIA Novosti that he did not yet know if an order had been issued for Guaidó's arrest, although he said that, in his opinion, a "state coup" was in progress.
Venezuela has been in a dispute between the two leaders since Guaidó declared himself the country's lawful interim president, backed by the United States and several other countries that recognized him. So far, the Venezuelan military has supported Maduro as international demands for Maduro's withdrawal have increased and the US has intensified its efforts to force it out of power.
Maduro said in a Russian interview that he had sent letters to several governments in which they propose to start a dialogue. He did not say which countries he was in talks with, but named some who had shown "genuine concern" for Venezuela – Mexico, Bolivia, Uruguay and Russia – as well as the Vatican and unspecified "European countries".
"We are talking about private negotiations, telephone negotiations between presidents and foreign ministers," Maduro said. "Our foreign minister is very active and we hope for good results in the next few hours."
Maduro also said that he wanted to speak with US President Donald Trump, but doubted that perspective, as John Bolton, an American security adviser, would probably not allow it.
International support for Maduro and Guaidó has merged along the well-known Cold War break lines, with Russia, China and other former socialist countries supporting Maduro and many western states joining forces with Guaidó. The leaders of France, Belgium, Germany and Spain gave Maduro eight days on Saturday to call new elections or they would support Guaidó.
Maduro told the RIA Novosti he was open to new parliamentary elections in the National Assembly, but the opposition-controlled parliament, headed by Guaidó, said he would vote for a new presidential election and said his election was legitimate.
Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, called on the opposition on Wednesday to negotiate with Maduro and seek international mediation.
"We call on the opposition to show an equally constructive approach, to withdraw the ultimatums and to act independently," Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow. He said the efforts to mediate the crisis failed because of "the categorical reluctance and refusal of opposition leaders to engage in dialogue," adding that Western countries promoted this "destructive attitude."
Moscow has become Maduro's strongest public supporter, accusing the United States to seek an illegal regime change. Russia has invested billions of dollars in Venezuela in recent years, providing important loans to support its economy in addition to military equipment.
There were reports last week that private Russian military contractors had been sent to strengthen Maduro's safety.
Maduro refused on Wednesday to comment on these reports, which Russia has rejected.
"No comment," he said in English. "I do not comment on it."
Efforts to remove Maduro this week have shifted to increasing economic pressure on the nation. The US sanctioned Venezuela's state oil company, PDVSA, this week. The sanctions blocked Maduro's access to oil export revenues to the US, a critical source of funding for a country already suffering an economic collapse.
Venezuela will lose billions in exports next year, which makes repaying debt to Russia and even China more difficult.
The fear of bloodshed in Venezuela has also increased. Guaidó has called on the military to join him, but so far the commander-in-chief has teamed up publicly with Maduro, with diplomats and military attractions stationed abroad widening.
The Trump administration has not ruled out military intervention in Venezuela, and Bolton stoked this speculation on Tuesday when cameras recorded on a notepad he had scribbled on "5,000 soldiers to Colombia".
Maduro dismissed Bolton's note and told the RIA Novosti that it was "clowning" and "silly childish games".
Bolton on Tuesday warned Maduro not to target Guaidó as he wrote on Twitter, "It will have serious consequences" if he gets hurt.