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Russia sanctions could include disconnection from SWIFT

The US is ready to take “substantive economic countermeasures” aimed at inflicting “significant and severe economic harm on the Russian economy” should President Putin push ahead with a military escalation in Ukraine, says a senior White House official.

Options under consideration include new actions against members of Putin's inner circle and on Russian energy producers, and one potential “nuclear option” of disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT international payment system used by banks worldwide.

“We believe that there is way forward here that will allow us to send a clear message to Russia there will be genuine and meaningful and enduring costs to choosing to go forward – should they choose to go forward – with a military escalation,” the official said in a briefing with reporters ahead of President Biden’s planned video call with Putin.

A separate CNN report quoted two “sources familiar with the discussions” who told the network” Disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT international payment system is also being considered.” The European Parliament already passed a nonbinding resolution in March this year, which condemned what they described as “Russia's ‘military posturing close to the country's border with Ukraine” and calling for the move if it invaded.

A senior Biden administration official also said there have been talks about disallowing Russian energy producers from debt markets in the event of an invasion.

“We have put together a pretty damn aggressive package,” the official said, adding that Russia has been warned that if it invades Ukraine, the US and Europe will together impose economic sanctions.

Echo from the past

Calls to exclude Russia from SWIFT are not new. In August 2014, the UK urged European leaders to consider such an option after Russia’s annexation of the Crimea. Alexei Kudrin, Russia’s former finance minister, then forecast that such a move could result in Russia’s GDP shrinking by 5%. However, the pressure campaign was ultimately not pursued further. Cutting Russia off from SWIFT was considered to be a major escalation, or, as then prime minister Dmitry Medvedev put it, tantamount to “a declaration of war.”

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