U.S. and Allies Will Indeed Block Russia’s SWIFT Access

SWIFT headquarters in Belgium. Photo: James Arthur Gekiere/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and numerous Western allies on Saturday announced a new round of economic sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, including removing key Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system — cutting them off from the rest of the world and likely crippling Russia’s financial sector, in addition to its ability to conduct international trade. The drastic move follows Friday’s announcement of sanctions directly targeting Russian president Vladimir Putin himself, as well as a host of other sanctions targeting the Russia and its regime immediately following the invasion — neither of which resulted in Russia ceasing its unprovoked attack on its neighbor.

The move is also likely to have large ripple effects on the global economy, especially in Europe. On Thursday, President Biden said that America’s European allies hadn’t yet agreed that revoking SWIFT access was necessary.

The U.S., European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., and Canada said in a joint statement that the drastic move “will ensure that these banks are disconnected from the international financial system and harm their ability to operate globally.” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen added that excluding the Russian banks from SWIFT “effectively block Russian exports and imports.”

In addition to removing “selected” Russian banks from SWIFT, the group of countries also newly announced that they were committed to targeting the Russian Central Bank to prevent it from using its international reserves to lessen the effect of sanctions; that they would act to block wealthy Russians from buying citizenship to their countries; and that a transatlantic task force was being launched to more effectively target the assets of sanctioned Russians and sanctioned Russian companies abroad.

The precise details of the sanctions, including which specific Russian banks will be targeted, are still being determined and will apparently be released Sunday. In their joint statement on Saturday, the nations also said they “are prepared to take further measures to hold Russia to account for its attack on Ukraine.”

U.S. officials told the Associated Press that the new measures are meant to send Russia’s currency into a “free fall.” The ruble already sank to a record low this week after the invasion began, while Russian stocks fell 33 percent.

The Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) operates an interbank messaging system that allows 11,000 banks and financial institutions across the globe to communicate and move billions of dollars a day. While the U.S. and its allies considered cutting off Russia’s SWIFT access in 2014 in response to annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, only one other country has ever been removed from the system: Iran, in 2012, as part of international sanctions targeting the country over its nuclear-weapon program.

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U.S. and Allies Will Block Russia’s SWIFT Access