| 29 February 2024, Thursday |

Russian banks face exclusion as allies deploy ‘financial nuclear weapon’

The United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union ratcheted up sanctions against Moscow on Saturday, announcing they will restrict access to the SWIFT international financial system as Russia resumed its attack on Ukraine.

Here’s an overview of how already-announced penalties affect banks and investors:


The United States, Britain, Europe, and Canada agreed on Saturday to remove several Russian banks from the SWIFT payments system, using what the French finance minister had previously described as a “financial nuclear bomb” because of the harm it would do Russia and its trade partners.

The newest set of penalties came after the US Treasury Department stated it was targeting Russia’s financial system’s “fundamental infrastructure,” penalizing two of its major banks, state-backed Sberbank and VTB. Otkritie, Sovcombank, and Novikombank, as well as certain top officials at state-owned institutions, are also sanctioned.

U.S. banks must sever their correspondent banking ties – which allow banks to make payments between one another and move money around the globe – with Russia’s largest lender, Sberbank, within 30 days.

Officials in Washington also wielded the government’s most powerful sanctioning tool, adding VTB, Otkritie, Novikombank and Sovcombank to the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list. The move effectively kicks the banks out of the U.S. financial system, bans their trade with Americans and freezes their U.S. assets.

The U.S. sanctions also target two Belarusian state-owned banks – Belinvestbank and Bank Dabrabyt – over the country’s support for Moscow’s attack.

The U.S. sanctions came soon after the British government said it would impose an asset freeze on all major Russian banks, including VTB, and stop major Russian companies from raising finance in Britain.

Russian banks would be cut off from sterling markets and clearing payments, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

Britain also announced asset freezes and travel bans on members of Russia’s political and financial elite, including those who have long enjoyed high-rolling London lifestyles.

More than 100 individuals, entities and subsidiaries will ultimately be sanctioned.

EU leaders have agreed sanctions on Moscow that target 70% of the Russian banking market, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday.

The bloc imposed a ban on issuing bonds, shares or loans in the EU for refinancing Alfa Bank and Bank Otkritie, after freezing assets at Rossiya Bank, Promsvyazbank and VEB earlier in the week.

The top three Russian banks Sberbank, VTB and Gazprombank, however, do not face an EU asset freeze.

The bloc also set a cap of 100,000 euros ($112,700.00) for EU bank accounts of Russian citizens, who will not be allowed to buy euro denominated shares.

Refinancing in the EU of Russian state-owned enterprises is also forbidden, with the exception of some utilities. Securities settlement houses in the EU will not be allowed to serve Russian counterparties.


Russia’s large banks are deeply integrated into the global financial system, meaning any sanctions on the biggest institutions could be felt far beyond its borders. Cutting them from SWIFT would make transactions more difficult and costlier.

But it is also expected to hurt the country’s trading partners in Europe and elsewhere. While further details are awaited, Germany suggested on Saturday that the allies were looking for “targeted and functional restriction of SWIFT” to limit collateral damage.

A ban from SWIFT would come on top of other sanctions that limit the ability of some of Russia’s largest banks to do business internationally.

U.S. Treasury said Thursday’s sanctions would disrupt billions of dollars worth of daily foreign exchange transactions conducted by Russian financial institutions. Overall, these institutions conduct about $46 billion worth of forex transactions, 80% of which are in dollars. “The vast majority of those transactions will now be disrupted,” it said.

The sanctions target nearly 80% of all banking assets in Russia.

Sberbank said that it was prepared for any developments.

VTB said it had prepared for the most severe scenario.

Sovcombank, Otkritie and Novikombank did not reply to requests for comment. The Russian embassy in the United States also did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

  • Reuters