US President Joe Biden is seriously weighing whether to remove Russia from SWIFT, the high security network that connect thousands of financial institutions around the world, but has yet to make a final decision, according to multiple people familiar with his thinking.
The decision to trigger the action has always been contingent on sign off by the European Union, which has been split in a contentious debate for weeks over the action, ultimately choosing not to go forward this week.
But US officials and their EU counterparts have continued to weigh options, including sanctions to remove individual banks and entities, instead of the entire Russian economy, from the network, officials say.
The move would be considered the nuclear option when it comes to responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden and his aides have highlighted how complicated blocking Russia from SWIFT would be, noting the US cannot move unilaterally. “That’s not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take,” Biden told reporters Thursday.
But since Biden’s press conference announcing new sanctions against Russia for its unprovoked attack, the administration appears to be moving closer to this position as other European allies have now given it their backing.
The administration has discussed the matter with the Federal Reserve, which would have a stake in any decision, according to an official. And US officials have been in talks with the European Union about a possible move.
One administration official said additional sanctions were likely to come if Kyiv, the besieged Ukrainian capital, fell. But it wasn’t clear if that would include SWIFT, or whether removing Russia from SWIFT might happen before.
A White House official told CNN that “as the President and administration officials have made clear, we are focused on coordinating with allies and partners to impose further costs on Putin for his war of choice” but declined to comment further.
On Saturday, Italy signaled that it would support taking measures to expel Russia from the SWIFT after Prime Minister Mario Draghi told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that “Italy fully supports the European Union’s line on sanctions against Russia, including those regarding SWIFT, and shall continue to do so.”
Draghi’s comments are particularly notable given the Italian economy’s exposure on energy, but the primary opposition to taking the action has come from Germany, officials say.