Carefully calibrate the sanctions applied to Russia to avoid collateral damage as much as possible. It is this balancing act that Western negotiators were still tackling on Tuesday evening, particularly with regard to the cut for certain Russian banks from the Swift interbank messaging system.
Making use of this “financial nuclear weapon” will indeed not be painless for the Europeans themselves. “This will quite seriously disrupt the financial circuits with the institutions that will be out of Swift, the Ministry of Finance acknowledged on Tuesday, after several meetings between Western officials. Not only Europe, but the whole world will be affected by the exit of these institutions from the system. »
The political decision to apply this sanction was taken on Sunday, but Westerners are still in the process of negotiating to know which banks must be “unwifted” and which will be able to continue to operate.
This decision must be announced on Wednesday, when an exceptional meeting of Ecofin, the Council of Ministers of Economy and Finance of the European Union, is to be held. “It is an exceptional measure, recalled Bercy. It has only been used twice in Swift’s history, with respect to North Korea and Iran. »
Seven banks potentially excluded
According to a working document obtained by the Bloomberg agency, Westerners plan to exclude seven Russian banks from the system. But that list does not include the country’s main lender, Sberbank, or the bank of Russian gas giant Gazprom. These two omissions, if confirmed on Wednesday, testify to the fear of Westerners about the economic consequences that could hit Europe once Russia is financially isolated.
Several countries, including Germany and Italy, are largely dependent on Russian gas for their electricity production. Moreover, Rome and Berlin were only belatedly convinced of the need to resort to Swift to sanction the Russian invasion, when an energy crisis is already affecting the whole world.
“European leaders will have their hands shaking when they press the Swift button,” confides the boss of a large French bank. On the side of Bercy, we say we are ready to “assume” the consequences of a withdrawal of Swift for several Russian banks.
Voices have been raised in recent days to call for caution. Jamie Dimon, the boss of the American bank JP Morgan, warned of the “unintended consequences” of this sanction. “Which countries will be impacted? Who will find workarounds, ”he wondered in an interview with Bloomberg.
Some experts fear that Russia will turn more widely to China to develop a parallel financial system, which would not be based on the dollar, which would have the effect of slowing down international trade globally.
Visa and MasterCard apply sanctions
The means of payment are in any case an important means of pressure in this conflict. The American payment card issuers Visa and MasterCard have thus indicated that they have taken measures to implement the sanctions imposed on Russia, preventing Russian banks from using their network.
A similar measure was taken in 2014, on the orders of Washington, during the Crimean War. This sanction had pushed Moscow to develop its own payment scheme, MIR, to reduce its dependence on Visa and MasterCard. The country has also developed an alternative system to Swift. But this is still far from being efficient enough to enable Russia to escape the impacts of future exclusion.