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Western leaders agreed Saturday to impose more financial sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, including removing “selected Russian banks” from the SWIFT international payments system.
The measures were part of a broader ratcheting-up of international support for Ukraine and pressure on Moscow over Russia’s all-out military assault on its western neighbor. Earlier on Saturday, in a historic reversal of policy, Germany announced it would send 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine. Other countries also announced increases in military aid to Kyiv.
In a joint statement, the leaders of the United States, the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and Canada vowed to “hold Russia to account and collectively ensure that this war is a strategic failure” for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“As Russian forces unleash their assault on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, we are resolved to continue imposing costs on Russia that will further isolate Russia from the international financial system and our economies,” they added.
“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 leaders said.
In a separate statement, the German government said the measure would apply to “Russian banks that are already sanctioned by the international community and, where necessary, additional Russian banks.”
In a brief late-night media appearance to announce the new measures, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described the conflict in Ukraine in stark terms.
“Only a few dozen kilometers from the EU’s eastern border, the Russian army is committing barbaric actions during its invasion of Ukraine. It is bombing and launching missile strikes, killing innocent people,” she said.
“At the same time, the entire world is witnessing the determined and brave resistance by the Ukrainian army and population.”
The Ukrainian government has repeatedly demanded that Russia be excluded from SWIFT, which links together banks from around the world and processes millions of payments every day.
After Putin launched his war on Ukraine on Thursday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba declared that anyone who doubted Russia should be banned from SWIFT “has to understand that the blood of innocent Ukrainian men, women and children will be on their hands too.”
But some countries, including Germany, resisted excluding Russia from the Belgium-based payments network, not least because they use it to pay for Russian gas, on which they are highly dependent.
Even as they announced their move, allies were still working to find ways to limit its impact on energy prices. If removing Russian banks from the financial payments service prevented the country from selling oil and natural gas, prices could jump as European customers scrambled to find alternative sources.
The United States and Europe were coordinating with SWIFT to see if there were ways to identify energy transactions in the system or whether exempting certain banks would limit the potential for disruption, a senior U.S. administration official said on a briefing call for reporters.
“We are going to go institution by institution in terms of those that are removed from the network,” the official said. “And we’ll pick those very carefully to maximize the impact on Russia and minimize the spillovers to Europe and the EU and the global economy.”
In their statement, Western leaders also agreed to “restrictive measures that will prevent the Russian Central Bank from deploying its international reserves in ways that undermine the impact of our sanctions,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
The senior U.S. official said the Biden administration and its Western allies were “disarming Fortress Russia” by sanctioning the Russian Central Bank. “I think you will immediately see a chilling effect fall over the Russian banking sector even beyond what’s already occurred,” the official said.
In addition, they said they would crack down on the sale of so-called “golden passports” to wealthy people linked to the Russian government, launch a transatlantic task force on the implementation of financial sanctions and boost coordination against disinformation.
Hans von der Burchard contributed reporting.