U.S., UK and EU agree to remove certain Russian banks from SWIFT
The United States, European Union and United Kingdom on Saturday agreed to block certain Russian banks’ access to the SWIFT international payment system, as Moscow continues its military assault against Ukraine.

The nations said in a joint statement that the measures would be implemented in the coming days, according to Reuters.

Measures also include restriction on the Russian central bank’s international reserves, they stated, vowing further action to come.

 “We will hold Russia to account and collectively ensure that this was is a strategic failure for Putin,” the leaders of European Commission, U.S., Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Canada wrote, Reuters reported.

 “Even beyond the measures we are announcing today, we are prepared to take further measures to hold Russia to account for its attack on Ukraine.”

Earlier, the U.S. and its allied imposed sanctions on major Russian banks as well as on President Vladimir Putin, among others, as Russian forces pushed into the heart of Ukraine toward Kyiv.

 “As Russian forces unleash their assault on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, we are resolved to continue imposing massive costs on Russia. Costs that will further isolate Russia from the international financial system and our economies,” Reuters quoted Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, as saying.

The actions are aimed at preventing Putin from using $630 billion in central bank foreign currency reserves in the invasion of Ukraine and to defend a plunging ruble, according to Reuters.

Cutting Russian banks out of the SWIFT system – the world’s main international payments network – deals a blow to Russian trade and makes it harder for Russian companies to do business.

 “Putin’s government is getting kicked off the international financial system,” a senior U.S. administration official said.

SWIFT, or the “Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication”, is a secure messaging system that facilitates rapid cross-border payments, making international trade flow smoothly and transferring trillions of dollars each year in what has become the principal mechanism for financing international trade.

Separately, SWIFT said in a statement that it was preparing to implement Western nations’ new measures targeting certain Russian banks in coming days.

 “We are engaging with European authorities to understand the details of the entities that will be subject to the new measures and we are preparing to comply upon legal instruction,” it said.

The U.S. official told reporters that if one of the banks cut off from SWIFT wants to make a payment with a bank outside of Russia, it will likely need to use a phone or fax machine, Reuters reported.

The official noted that most banks worldwide would likely stop all transactions with Russian banks removed from the network.

The United States and its allies will finalize the list of banks that will be cut off from SWIFT, the official said, adding that banks already under U.S. and European sanctions would be the first ones considered.

Getting the EU on board for sanctioning Russia through SWIFT had been a tough process since EU trade with Russia amounted to 80 billion euros, about 10 times as much as the United States, according to AP.

Germany specifically had balked at the measure since it could hit them hard. However, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said in a statement that “after Russia’s shameless attack … we are working hard on limiting the collateral damage of decoupling [Russia] from SWIFT so that it hits the right people. What we need is a targeted, functional restrictions of SWIFT.”

As another measure, the allies announced a commitment “to taking measures to limit the sale of citizenship — so-called golden passports — that let wealthy Russians connected to the Russian government become citizens of our countries and gain access to our financial systems,” AP reported.

EU foreign ministers will discuss the sanctions package at a virtual meeting on Sunday evening, the fourth time they come together in a week.

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