Why SWIFT is the nuclear option of Russian financial sanctions

The United States and its NATO allies have rolled out an unprecedented number of sanctions against Russia as punishment for its invasion last week of Ukraine, including banning exports of cutting-edge technology to Russia.

One measure that Ukraine and some of its allies pleaded for is to cut Russia off from SWIFT, the world’s largest financial transaction network. It’s an option that would sever Russia from most international banking transactions, and potentially cripple its economy for a time.

On Saturday, the US and its allies moved forward with plans to do just that. “We commit to ensuring that selected Russian banks are removed from the SWIFT messaging system,” the leaders of the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, the UK, Canada, and the US said in a joint statement. “This will ensure that these banks are disconnected from the international financial system and harm their ability to operate globally.”

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