The European Union wants to
cut all links between Russia and the global financial system, France’s finance
minister said on Friday, adding that removing Moscow from the SWIFT interbank
system remained a “last resort”.

Speaking hours after European national leaders agreed further
sanctions on Russia over its attack on Ukraine, Bruno Le Maire said the EU
“wants to cut all the links between Russia and the global financial system”.

“We want to isolate Russia financially… We want to dry up the
financing,” he added as European finance ministers met in Paris to discuss the
economic measures.

Both Le Maire and his German counterpart Christian Lindner said
that removing Russia from the Belgium-based SWIFT system remained “on the

“This is the very last resort, SWIFT, but this is one of the
options that remains on the table,” the French minister said.

But Lindner insisted that “we already have a complete blockade of
Russian banks, which means business dealings with Russia are as good as

Reacting Thursday to sanctions decided by the EU, Britain, the
United States and other Western nations, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
said “the pressure on Russia must increase” from what has already been

“Not all possibilities for sanctions have been exhausted yet,” he

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba had been more explicit Thursday,
writing on Twitter that “who now doubts whether Russia should be banned from
SWIFT has to understand that the blood of innocent Ukrainian men, women and
children will be on their hands too.”

SWIFT’s messaging system allows banks to communicate rapidly and
securely about transactions, and cutting Russia off would cripple its ability
to trade with most of the world.

Iran has been disconnected from the system in the past over its
nuclear programme, while Moscow has been developing domestic financial
infrastructure to counter just such a threat, including the SPFS system for
bank transfers and the Mir card payments system.

Cutting off Russia could complicate remaining trade with Europe,
including natural gas imports vital to the continent’s energy supply as well as
oil shipments.

While emphasising that Europe must be ready to make hard choices
to confront Russia, Le Maire said Thursday that Paris would protect French
households from any resulting increase in energy prices.

And Lindner spelled out that “in one-off cases payments (to
Russia) remain possible, for example to pay for gas deliveries”.

Berlin this week said it would halt certification of a new
pipeline bringing gas from Russia known as Nord Stream 2, but an existing
direct link remains in operation.

Lindner added that “further steps are possible but their
consequences must be weighed, the idea is to inflict consequences on the
Russian economy” rather than cause harm to Europe.


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