Momentum builds to cut Russia off from global banking system SWIFT

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The United States is again considering cutting Russia off from the global interbank payment system known as SWIFT, as the next step in a series of escalating sanctions punishing Moscow for the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden initially withheld this crucial step which would isolate Russia on the world stage and have a serious impact on its economy, due to concerns from European allies. But those concerns appeared to fade on Saturday as Russian forces moved to encircle the Ukrainian capital of kyiv.

Ukraine has pushed for a SWIFT ban on Russia, urging Europe to act more forcefully to impose sanctions on Moscow. However, some European countries, including Germany, are reluctant to take this step.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday called on nations to cut Russia off from the SWIFT international bank transfer system “to inflict maximum pain”.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said that “the debate on SWIFT is not ruled out, it will continue”.

Putin and Lavrov sanctioned

The United States announced on Friday that it would freeze the assets of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, following similar moves by the European Union and Britain, as nations around the world were seeking to tighten sanctions against the Russian government for its invasion of Ukraine.

The US Treasury Department announced the action on Friday after EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels unanimously agreed to freeze the assets and bank accounts of senior Russian officials.

The British government took the same step on Friday, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss writing on Twitter: “We won’t stop inflicting economic pain on the Kremlin until Ukrainian sovereignty is restored.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the move by the United States, European Union and Britain sent “a clear message about the strength of opposition to the actions” of Putin.

Juan González, the National Security Council’s senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, told VOA that the sanctions were designed to exert global pressure on Russia.

“If you see the sanctions against 13 financial institutions, some of the largest in Russia, it will impact any government or company that has agreements with these institutions. But also a lot of this money laundering and governments who operate outside the international financial system will feel the pressure,” Gonzalez said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the sanctions against Putin and Lavrov reflected the West’s “absolute helplessness” in foreign policy, according to the RIA news agency.

World leaders are rarely the target of direct sanctions. The only other leaders currently under EU sanctions are Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to Agence France-Presse.

Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said the move was “a unique step in history” towards a country that has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, but said it showed how EU countries were united to counter Russia’s actions.

EU sanctions against Putin and Lavrov are part of a broader sanctions package that targets Russian banks, oil refineries and the Russian defense industry.

EU leaders agreed, however, that it was premature to impose a travel ban on Putin and Lavrov, as the negotiating channels must remain open.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Friday that the banking sanctions package adopted by the EU would hit Putin’s government harder than Russia’s exclusion from the SWIFT payment system.

“The sword that looks the toughest isn’t always the smartest,” she said, adding, “the sharpest sword right now is the list [the] banks.”

In response to the sanctions, Russia has taken its own measures, including banning British flights into its territory, after Britain imposed a similar ban on Aeroflot flights.

The United States and several allies imposed a first tranche of sanctions on Tuesday, after Putin declared the disputed eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states, just as he claimed the peninsula. Ukrainian Crimean in 2014.

President Biden added a new round of sanctions against Russia on Thursday, hours after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, telling the White House after meeting virtually with leaders of the G-7 and NATO that “Putin chose this war, and now he and his country will bear the consequences.”

Biden said the new US sanctions, which target Russian banks, oligarchs and high-tech sectors and include export controls, “will reduce Russia’s access to finance and technology for strategic sectors. of its economy and will degrade its industrial capacity for years to come”.

NATO allies, including Britain and the European Union, also imposed new sanctions on Thursday, and the effects were felt almost immediately as global security prices plummeted and commodity prices first jumped. Biden acknowledged that Americans would see higher gas prices.

Also on Friday, an International Criminal Court prosecutor warned that the court may investigate whether Russia has committed possible war crimes, following its invasion of Ukraine.

“I remind all parties conducting hostilities on Ukrainian territory that my office may exercise its jurisdiction and investigate any act of genocide, crime against humanity or war crime committed in Ukraine,” the prosecutor of Ukraine said on Friday. ICC, Karim Khan, in a statement.

Certain information in this report comes from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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