German Chancellor Olaf Scholz suggested Thursday evening that he’s against including the SWIFT international payments system in new EU sanctions against Russia, insisting this option should be kept for later.
Arriving at a hastily-arranged summit of EU leaders in Brussels, Scholz said it was important to react to Russia’s war on Ukraine by imposing “necessary further sanctions.” Yet when asked whether those sanctions should involve banning Russia from using SWIFT, he indicated that he was against such a step.
“In terms of unity and determination, it is very important that we decide on the measures that have now been prepared over the last few weeks, and reserve everything else for a situation where it is necessary to do other things as well,” Scholz said, while avoiding mention of SWIFT by name. He did not elaborate on what kind of situation might make it necessary to take further steps.
Scholz’s rejection comes after Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba publicly urged the EU in a tweet to ban Russia from SWIFT, adding that those who had doubts about such a move would have “blood of innocent Ukrainian men, women and children” on their hands.
EU leaders aim to reach a political agreement on sanctions, which would allow the bloc to punish Russia for launching a full-fledged invasion into Ukraine in the early hours of Thursday.
Arriving at the summit, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte admitted that a ban on SWIFT was “sensitive” for some EU countries “because it would also have an enormous impact on ourselves.”
U.S. President Joe Biden also indicated Thursday that the EU had reservations about including the payments system within joint Western sanctions.
“It is always an option but right now that’s not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take,” Biden said.
U.K Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants Russia to be blocked from SWIFT and raised the issue in a call with G7 leaders Thursday, a British government insider said.
A Downing Street readout of an earlier call between Johnson and Scholz made the U.K.’s frustrations clear. “The prime minister welcomed Germany’s decision to suspend the Nord Stream 2 pipeline but said that allies must now make a concerted effort to bring the strongest possible sanctions to bear on the Putin regime,” it said. “The prime minister underscored that western inaction or under-reaction would have unthinkable consequences.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said it was essential that any measures on SWIFT were coordinated between the U.K., U.S. and EU.
Alex Wickham contributed reporting.