Russian banks face exclusion as EU joins new round of sanctions

The United States, Britain, and European Union leaders are targeting Russian banks as part of a new package of sanctions following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Here is a rundown of how sanctions which have already been announced impact banks and investors:

What has been announced so far?

The US Treasury Department said it was targeting the “core infrastructure” of Russia’s financial system, sanctioning two of its largest banks – state-backed Sberbank and VTB. Also on the sanctions list are Otkritie, Sovcombank, and Novikombank and some senior executives at state-owned banks.

US 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 list. The move effectively kicks the banks out of the US financial system, bans their trade with Americans, and freezes their US assets.

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

The US 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.

Britain had earlier imposed sanctions on just three billionaires with close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin and five small lenders.

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, February 25.

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) 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.

Unlike the United States and Britain, the EU has decided not to stop correspondent banks from dealing with top Russia lenders.

European leaders earlier in the week had agreed to sanction 27 individuals and entities, including banks financing Russian decision-makers and operations in the breakaway territories in Ukraine, but not the largest lenders.

Washington had imposed sanctions on Promsvyazbank and VEB.

The United States had also ramped up prohibitions on Russian sovereign debt, which US President Joe Biden said would cut the Russian government off from Western financing.

Swiss financial watchdog FINMA told banks on Friday to freeze assets of people and entities on the EU’s sanctions list.

What next?

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.

The US Treasury said the sanctions on Thursday, February 24, 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.

“We have worked through several plans to counter the sanctions in ways which minimize the negative consequences for our clients,” it said in a statement.

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.

The new sanctions EU leaders are preparing to announce and are likely to include freezing Russia’s assets and halting access to financial markets by its banks.

What would hit hardest?

What banks and Western creditors fear most is that Russia is banned from the global payment system, SWIFT, which is used by more than 11,000 financial institutions in over 200 countries.

Such a move would hit Russian banks hard but the consequences are complex. Banning SWIFT would make it tough for European creditors to get their money back.

The EU said it will assess the consequences of cutting Russia out of SWIFT before deciding whether to use that “financial nuclear weapon.”

Britain’s Johnson said on Thursday he intended to work with allies to shut off Russia’s access to SWIFT. US President Joe Biden said it remained an option.

Analysts said Russian institutions are better able to cope with sanctions than eight years earlier, although that does not mean they would not hurt.

The Institute of International Finance, the largest international banking group, said US sanctions on Russia will have a sizeable impact on Russia’s economy and citizens and could cause a recession.

Which foreign banks are most exposed?

Many foreign banks have significantly reduced their exposure to Russia since 2014 but several Western banks have been involved in deals and have other relationships.

There were big falls in shares of European banks on Thursday, with an index of European banking stocks closing down 8.1%.

Banks with significant operations in Russia were particularly hard hit, with Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank International down 23% and France’s Societe Generale losing 12%.

Italian and French banks each had outstanding claims of some $25 billion on Russia in the third quarter of 2021, based on Bank for International Settlements figures.

Austrian banks had $17.5 billion. That compares with $14.7 billion for the United States. –

$1 = 0.8873 euros

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