What is SWIFT, the banking system seen as toughest sanction on Russia?

Russia At War

(NEXSTAR) — The United States and European nations agreed Saturday to impose the most potentially crippling financial penalties yet on Russia over its unrelenting invasion of Ukraine.

The move includes cutting key Russian banks out of the SWIFT financial messaging system, which daily moves countless billions of dollars around more than 11,000 banks and other financial institutions around the world.

SWIFT, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is a global system that facilitates financial communications between over 11,000 institutions in more than 200 countries.

In the absence of military intervention, blocking access to the SWIFT payment system — which is overseen by the G-10 central banks in 11 countries — is thought to be one of the harshest punishments against Russia.

There’s a concern that Russia may develop a workaround when booted from SWIFT, which may result in “stronger ties with China or developing a digital currency” to circumvent economic troubles, according to the outlet.

Ukrainian leaders including President Volodymyr Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, meanwhile, admonished the European Union for failing to include Russia’s removal from SWIFT in earlier sanctions packages.

“I will not be diplomatic on this,” tweeted Kuleba on Thursday. “Everyone who now doubts whether 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.”

“BAN RUSSIA FROM SWIFT,” he concluded the message.

Among the sanctions that have been announced, the U.S. has cut off major Russian banks from the U.S. financial system and imposed policies that would make it hard for state-owned and private businesses to raise money from investors. Together with allies in the EU, Britain and Japan, the U.S. is also cutting off imports of semiconductors and other high-tech gear.

The EU also agreed to freeze the assets of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Associated Press reported Thursday, while Switzerland agreed to freeze the assets of anyone on the EU’s sanctions list, Reuters reported.

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