This Reuters article argues that it is unlikely for the EU to include cutting Russia off the SWIFT system.

One of the most important reasons seems to be the financial impact on the EU lenders:

Data from the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) shows that European lenders hold the lion's share of the nearly $30 billion in foreign banks' exposure to Russia.

While this seems like a huge amount of money it is only a tiny fraction of what the EU is spending for the coronavirus rescue plan (1/2 trillion EUR).


4 Answers 4


Update 2022-02-26: several Russian banks got banned from SWIFT.

This New York Times article argues that keeping Russia in the SWIFT system is to keep buying Russian energy, not give an edge to China as well as avoid digital currencies and other alternative communications systems:

  • Because of Europe’s heavy reliance on Russian energy exports, analysts said, there is a reluctance among some euro area leaders to [cut Russia off the SWIFT system] and risk those purchases by making doing business with Russia more costly and complicated. [...]
  • Sanctions experts said that SWIFT was often overhyped as a tool and that cutting access could actually backfire by forcing Russia to find alternate ways to participate in the global economy, including forging stronger ties with China or developing a digital currency. [...]
  • Blocking Russia from SWIFT would probably open the door to other workarounds, including finding alternative communications systems.

Echoed by https://www.protocol.com/policy/russia-swift-sanctions-ukraine (mirror):

The U.S. is hesitant to block Russia from SWIFT, in part because doing so could push the global economy away from the U.S. dollar. [...] SWIFT sanctions, rather than being a “nuclear option” thwarting Russia, could be the first domino in a sequence of events that bolster China- and Russia-backed alternative digital payment systems. Such sanctions might also, in the long run, steer emerging markets toward blockchain-based systems that would reduce global reliance on the U.S.-centric international monetary system. Altogether, SWIFT sanctions could very well incite the dedollarization of the world economy. [...]

Plenty of SWIFT alternatives already exist. The EU, Russia and China have each created their own systems. There are also emergent blockchain-based alternatives such as Ripple, which aim to usurp SWIFT through technological prowess rather than political influence.


In a nutshell, apparently, the Western EU countries are afraid of:

As far as I know, the only country blocked from SWIFT is Iran. The impact on the EU from that decision was much less significant.


This Reuters article argues that it is unlikely for the EU to include cutting Russia off the SWIFT system.

The Reuters article was mostly drawing wrong conclusions. Obviously it took a few days but the US, the EU and Japan agreed only three days after the begin of the Russo-Ukrainian War to cut off some but not all Russian banks from SWIFT. (https://edition.cnn.com/2022/02/26/politics/biden-ukraine-russia-swift/index.html)

The list of these banks is currently still complied.

For such a drastic measure and the number of countries participating that is actually quite fast, I'd say.

There may have been initially some reluctance but the full scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia seems to have changed that completely.

The reason given for not doing it completely was to not interrupt resource flows too much and to not cripple the Russian economy too much. They probably want to have some control about the amount of impact of the SWIFT cutoff.


In addition to the other answers, and I'm not sure this was brought up as reason, but the fallout of blocking SWIFT is hitting Eastern European countries.

The Sberbank is a large Russian bank that also operaties in Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. It is likely to fail so the amount citizens can now withdraw is limited and it is possible that they will not have access to their deposits for some time (even though they are are protected for up to €100,000 per depositor).

This causes queues at atm-s (eg Croatia), and may cause unrest and will also strain European countries when the deposits <100k will be reimbursed (not sure if this is the correct term). And for some people the bankproblems are already causing real problems: a very sad story emerged of crowdfunded money for a little girl's cancer treatment not being accesible.

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