U.S., allies agree to limit Russia from SWIFT banking system

The United States and its allies agreed Saturday to take aim at Russia through SWIFT, a service that facilitates global transactions among thousands of financial institutions, the White House said in a joint announcement with global partners.

“We commit to ensuring that selected Russian banks are removed from the SWIFT messaging system. This will ensure that these banks are disconnected from the international financial system and harm their ability to operate globally,” the statement, attributed to the leaders of the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, said.

President Joe Biden on Thursday, when announcing new U.S. sanctions against Russia, noted differences among European nations on punishing Russia through SWIFT. Doing so is “always an option,” Biden said. “But right now, that’s not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take.”

A European diplomat said one reason for the administration’s previous reluctance to push publicly for targeting Russia’s access to SWIFT has largely centered on concerns that doing so would expose and call attention to divisions among the allies about taking the step. The person said the Biden administration has been trying to sell the notion that the U.S. and European allies are in total lock-step and has not wanted to get ahead of where the Europeans are at on SWIFT.

Germany and Italy had been reluctant to include SWIFT as part of sanctions against Russia. Europe’s economy, which is far more closely tied to Russia’s than the U.S. economy, could suffer if Russia was restricted or prohibited from using SWIFT, including if banks are blocked from access.

But the mood on this in Europe has been shifting as Russia’s aggression has escalated.

On Saturday, Germany’s government indicated publicly it might be supportive of restricting or limiting Russia’s access to SWIFT in a targeted way, short of a total removal. 

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