There's One Sanction the US Is Resisting Using

Biden says America won't push to have Russia kicked off SWIFT system
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 25, 2022 8:52 AM CST
There's One Sanction the US Is Resisting Using
People hold banners as they shout slogans during a protest outside the Russian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022.   (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Western countries and the US have responded to the Russian invasion of Ukraine with sweeping sanctions, but they're holding back on deploying what analysts call the "nuclear option" of financial sanctions: kicking Russia off the Belgium-based SWIFT messaging system for global financial transactions. The system "doesn't move the money, but it moves the information about the money," Alexandra Vacroux, executive director of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard told NPR as tensions escalated last month. The secure messaging system links more than 11,000 financial institutions in more than 200 countries and territories, and Vacroux says cutting Russia off is considered the "nuclear option" because of the massive initial impact it would have on the country's economy.

Iran was kicked off the system in 2012, but some Western countries are hesitant about cutting Russia off now—partly because they want to keep the option in reserve, and partly due to concerns about their own economies and the future of the system itself. Russia supplies more than a third of Europe's natural gas, and cutting it off from SWIFT would make it harder for buyers to pay for energy supplies, the Economist reports. It could also diminish the power of the US dollar; bolster SPFS, Russia's rudimentary alternative to SWIFT; and give a boost to CIPS, China's rapidly growing messaging system.

Ukraine has urged Western countries to block Russia from SWIFT, and the move is supported by leaders including Britain's Boris Johnson, but France has called it a "last resort" and Germany is also believed to be hesitant, reports the BBC. President Biden downplayed the option Thursday, arguing that the sanctions already imposed "exceed SWIFT," the AP reports. He said the issue should be revisited around a month from now. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell disagreed, saying the US should "ratchet the sanctions all the way up." "Don’t hold any back," he said. "Every single available tough sanction should be employed and should be employed now." (More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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