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Ukraine urges tougher sanctions but Europe won’t pull trigger on SWIFT

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is urging the EU to impose tougher sanctions on Russia over its invasion, after the bloc held off hitting Moscow with a full arsenal of punitive measures.

“Not all possibilities for sanctions have been exhausted yet. The pressure on Russia must increase,” Zelensky writes on Twitter after talking to EU chief Ursula von der Leyen.

Some European leaders, including in the United Kingdom, favor taking the additional step of blocking Russia from SWIFT, the Belgium-headquartered consortium used by banks and other financial institutions that serves as a key communications line for commerce worldwide. The SWIFT system averaged 42 million messages daily last year to enable payments. The name is an acronym for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, and about half of all high-value payments that cross national borders go through its platform.

Ukraine has sought for Russia to be excluded from SWIFT, but several European leaders would prefer to stay patient because a ban could make international trade more difficult and hurt their economies.

French Finance Minister Bruno le Maire calls using SWIFT “a last resort,” ahead of a meeting with other European treasury chiefs.

His German counterpart Christian Lindner also opposes including SWIFT and notes that Europe may keep buying gas from Russia.

“In one-off cases, payments [to Russia] remain possible, for example, to pay for gas deliveries,” he says.

“We already have a complete blockade of Russian banks,” Lindner says. “Business dealings with Russia are as good as stopped.”

He adds 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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