Why is booting Russia off SWIFT the one key sanction the US and Europe are still holding back on?

US and European officials are holding one key financial sanction against Russia in reserve, choosing not to boot Russia off SWIFT, the dominant system for global financial transactions.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine led to a barrage of new financial sanctions being placed on the country on Thursday.

While US President Joe Biden announced restrictions on exports to Russia and sanctions against Russian banks and state-controlled companies, he pointedly played down the need to block Russia from SWIFT.

What is SWIFT?

SWIFT is the Belgian-headquartered consortium used by banks and other financial institutions that serves as a key communications line for commerce worldwide.

The international payments system SWIFT is used by more than 11,000 financial institutions in more than 200 countries.

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The United States has imposed a raft of new sanctions against Russia.

The SWIFT system averaged 42 million messages daily last year to enable payments.

The name is an acronym for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, and about half of all high-value payments that cross national borders go through its platform.

In arguing for Russia to be cut off from the SWIFT system, UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Russia’s continued access allowed it to move money around the world to receive payments for its gas.

Who is pushing for the sanction?

European nations, including the UK and Ukraine, have sought for Russia to be excluded from SWIFT, but several European leaders would prefer to stay patient because a ban could make international trade more difficult and hurt their economies.


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