Biden defends allowing Russian access to SWIFT

President Biden on Thursday defended maintaining Russia’s access to an international messaging system for banks despite pressure from Ukrainian leaders.

The U.S., United Kingdom and European Union on Thursday announced strict new penalties on the Russian economy, financial institutions and influential elites close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the Western allies did not bar Moscow from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), even after Ukrainian government officials urged them to do so Thursday morning.

“It is always an option, but right now that’s not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take,” Biden told reporters after announcing new sanctions Thursday.

Biden announced the U.S. would cut off five Russian banks, including its two largest financial firms, from the U.S. financial system. The president also announced a ban on exporting certain crucial technologies to Russia and sanctions on 10 wealthy Russians with ties to Putin.

The president argued that the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and European allies were more powerful than targeting SWIFT.

“The sanctions we imposed exceed SWIFT. The sanctions we imposed exceed anything that’s ever been done. The sanctions we imposed have generated two-thirds of the world joining us. They are profound sanctions. Let’s have a conversation in another month or so to see if they’re working,” Biden said.

The Biden administration also announced plans to impose sanctions on individuals and entities in Belarus, accusing the nation of supporting and facilitating Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Banks across the world use SWIFT to finalize transactions and transfers. Cutting Russia off from SWIFT would make it incredibly difficult for its banks to operate efficiently, but could also wreak economic havoc for European nations who depend on Russian oil and natural gas exports.

Stocks plunged across the world Thursday and oil prices spiked in the wake of Putin’s invasion and the growing economic costs. While the new sanctions fell short of Ukrainian desires, they’ve already made waves across the Russian financial system.

The value of the Russian currency plunged to a record low Thursday, with 1 ruble now worth barely more than an American penny. 

Brett Samuels contributed.

Tags Joe Biden Vladimir Putin

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