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US, EU to Kick Some Russian Banks Off SWIFT Banking System

Financial institutions worldwide use the system to send and receive millions of messages and money transfer orders.

A protester holds a banner calling for Russia to be banned from the SWIFT banking system during a demonstration Saturday against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, held in front the building of the Permanent Mission of Russia to the EU in Brussels.
A protester holds a banner calling for Russia to be banned from the SWIFT banking system, during a demonstration Saturday against Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The demonstration took place in Brussels, in front the building of the Permanent Mission of Russia to the EU.
Omar Havana/Getty Images

The US and its allies have agreed to kick some Russian banks off the SWIFT secure messaging network, a system that banks worldwide use to send and receive millions of financial messages and money transfer orders. The move intensifies sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

In a joint statement released late Saturday, the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the European Commission said they've committed to "ensuring that selected Russian banks are removed" from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication messaging system. "This will ensure that these banks are disconnected from the international financial system and harm their ability to operate globally."

The Belgium-based SWIFT network links more than 11,000 financial institutions, including the US Federal Reserve System, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank.

Ukraine's western allies had earlier seemed reluctant to block Russia's access to SWIFT, though some observers said it would be only a matter of days before they acted. The move could mean European lenders will have trouble collecting payments on the nearly $30 billion in debt owed them by Russian individuals and corporations.

The allies will also put measures in place to keep the Russian Central Bank from using its international reserves to sidestep sanctions, the joint statement said. And it said the allies will move to crack down on "the sale of citizenship -- so called golden passports -- that let wealthy Russians connected to the Russian government become citizens of our countries and gain access to our financial systems."

The allies are launching a transatlantic task force as well, to ensure sanctions are effectively implemented.

"We are committed to employing sanctions and other financial and enforcement measures on additional Russian officials and elites close to the Russian government, as well as their families, and their enablers to identify and freeze the assets they hold in our jurisdictions," the statement said, adding that they'll work with other governments to disrupt the movement and hiding of "ill-gotten gains."

On Friday, the White House said the US would join the EU and UK in hitting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other members of Russia's national security team with personal sanctions. The day before, US President Joe Biden announced economic sanctions and export limits against Russia. Biden said those sanctions would cut off major Russian banks and businesses from western financial markets and restrict the export of technology to Russia, a move the president said strikes at the country's military and aerospace industries.