Russia Is Ready For Possible SWIFT Cutoff, Debt-Sale Ban
As we pointed out earlier, White House chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow said Tuesday afternoon that further sanctions against Russia were “under consideration” at the White House – denying reports that sanctions had been abandoned at President Trump’s behest.
Over the weekend, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said another round of sanctions would be announced as soon as Monday.
And while Kudlow insists there’s “no confusion” at the White House, Russian media are reporting that the Kremlin is prepared for even the most dramatic actions by the US Treasury, including bans on selling Russian debt and the prohibition of Russian banks from using the SWIFT network.
While Sberbank CEO Herman Gref has side he doesn’t expect the US and European Union to follow through with threats to boot Russia out of SWIFT, as TASS reported, the Kremlin has been working with the country’s banking system to create its own domestic version of SWIFT.
We have been tracking the ‘relationship’ between Russia and the international payments system SWIFT since 2013, when we first reported that the NSA had somehow implanted itself inside SWIFT, and had been tracking flows through the global USD-intermediated financial transaction system.
It wasn’t long after this revelation that Russia started planning its own (possibly BRICS-based) global financial system in furtherance of its goal of de-dollarization.
A year later, the UK demanded that the EU consider kicking Russia out of SWIFT as part of the sanctions levied in response to Russia’s purported activities in Ukraine.
However, removing Russia from the system would carry certain risks, since it would create the opportunity for Russia to demonstrate that it can survive without SWIFT, possibly inspiring other countries to follow its lead.
The UK is also reportedly considering a ban on Russian debt trading in the City of London.
To wit, Russian authorities are considering the creation of a special bank to buy OFZs and “classifying the identities of those who will be buying them,” according to an anonymous source quoted by Sputnik.
Already, Russian state tech giant Rostec will use Russia’s homemade analogue of the SWIFT interbank network for cash-transfer services, the company revealed over the weekend, per RT.
Rostec CEO Igor Zavyalov has said that the new system will reduce Russia’s dependence on foreign providers.
Despite Kudlow’s declaration, it’s unlikely that the US would resort to banning Russian banks from using SWIFT, or from trading in Russian debt, according to Sputnik.
But even more important than the SWIFT workaround, though Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said there are no plans to ban trading in Russian debt, the Kremlin is still worried that the US might try to stem trading in Russian sovereign debt, and possibly even Russian credit and equities.
Back in February, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said Russian banks are prepared to operate without SWIFT, the a telecommunications network used to transfer funds between accounts at various global banks.
“Certainly, it is unpleasant, as it will prove a stumbling block for companies and banks, and will slow down work. It will be inevitable to deploy some aged technologies for information transfer and calculations. However, the companies are technically and psychologically ready for the shutdown as this threat was repeatedly voiced,” Dvorkovich said.
Russian leaders have been wary of being cut off by western-controlled financial services ever since MasterCard abruptly cut off its payment system from serving clients of seven Russian banks after Washington imposed its first set of sanctions on Moscow in 2014.
Of course, the US has threatened to cut off countries – even important allies – from the international banking system before. (Indeed, it’s a threat frequently leveraged against nations, like Pakistan, which will be added to a list of terrorism financing nations).
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