The removal of some Russian banks from SWIFT and a freeze on Russia’s central bank assets held overseas are under consideration, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Saturday.
The financial sanctions, which von der Leyen said she would propose to EU leaders “in coordination” with the U.S., Canada, France, Germany and Italy, would be the strongest economic measures taken to date to counter Russia’s waging of war against Ukraine.
It wasn’t clear which banks would be barred from the SWIFT payments system. Western powers hesitated to bar Russia completely from SWIFT, in part because that could prompt Russia to seek other means of transmitting payments. Germany, Italy and Hungary, which initially opposed the move, reportedly dropped their opposition over the weekend.
Freezing the Russian central bank’s assets is an even more powerful move that could lead to a run on Russian banks and a crash in the ruble’s exchange rate. It would also likely weaken the ability of Russia to finance its military operations.
Many have speculated that Russia would turn to cryptocurrency to evade sanctions. But crypto payments systems remain immature, slow and costly. Only a fraction of Russia’s financial needs could be met that way, and law enforcement has shown an increasing adeptness at blocking illegal transactions and seizing ill-gotten digital assets