Will SWIFT become America’s latest financial weapon against Russia? (Video)
25 August, 2018
In a recent speech made to Congress last week, US Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Sigal Mandelker has confirmed that the US Treasury has frozen Russian-owned assets in the United States worth hundreds of millions of dollars as part of Washington’s sanctions campaign against Moscow since 2013.
“The actions of the US Treasury have had significant consequences for the financial interests of individuals and businesses that were affected, including the blocking of hundreds of millions of dollars of Russian assets in the United States.”
Mandelker is responsible for sanctions by the US Treasury, and added that “Russia is taking note of these impacts” as foreign direct investment into Russia has fallen five percent since 2013, with direct investment from the US falling 80 percent.
Since January 2017 the Trump White House has sanctioned 217 Russian-related individuals and entities, including oil company Surgutneftegaz and power company EuroSibEnergo. Targets include heads of major state-owned banks and energy firms, and some of President Putin’s closest associates.
In prepared remarks Mandelker said…
“As companies across the globe work to distance themselves from sanctioned Russian persons, our actions are imposing an unprecedented level of financial pressure on those supporting the Kremlin’s malign agenda and on key sectors of the Russian economy.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry is calling the latest round of sanctions as illegitimate, useless, and counterproductive.
Taking note of the America’s ever increasing habit to use its leading position in the global financial market to punish “wrongdoers”, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas made a stunning statement that the European Union should set up a system that would allow Brussels to be independent in its financial operations from Washington.
“It is indispensable that we strengthen European autonomy by creating payment channels that are independent of the United States, a European Monetary Fund and an independent SWIFT system,” Maas wrote in the Handelsblatt business daily.
Based in Belgium, SWIFT is a network that enables financial institutions worldwide to send and receive information about financial transactions. The system’s management has stated that SWIFT remains politically neutral and independent.
RT reports that despite such claims of neutrality, the United States has enough power to block transactions through SWIFT. In 2012, the Danish newspaper Berlingske wrote that US authorities managed to seize money being transferred from a Danish businessman to a German bank for a batch of US-sanctioned Cuban cigars. The transaction was made in US dollars, which allowed Washington to block it.
The German Foreign Minister’s words come as the US pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, and re-imposed sanctions against Tehran. The EU remains committed to the deal despite Washington’s political pressure. “Every day the deal is alive is better than the highly explosive crisis that would otherwise threaten the Middle East,” Mass wrote.
The EU has enforced the so-called Blocking Statute to protect its firms operating in Iran from US sanctions against the country. However, European companies like Total, Maersk and others quit Iran for fear of US sanctions. These firms are dependent on the US-dominated international banking system and international financial markets.
Moscow based Financial Analyst Eric Kraus and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou examine America’s weaponization of the financial system as the US Treasury expands sanctions placed on Russia. In reaction to the weaponizing of financial systems, countries are ramping up de-dollarization as American allies like Germany are calling for SWIFT payment system alternatives.
Meanwhile, in preparation of further financial warfare, the Central Bank of Russia bought 26.1 tons of gold in July, bringing its holdings to 2,170 tons, according to International Monetary Fund data compiled by Bloomberg. It’s the largest single monthly purchase since late 2017.
The stockpile was valued at $77.4 billion at the end of last month, according to the Russian central bank’s website. At current prices, the reserves are worth around $83.6 billion.
Russian bullion holdings are approaching the Soviet peak of 2,800 tons, which were seen in 1941. Over the last decade, the country’s share of gold in reserves has soared tenfold. Russia has also continued reducing its holdings of US treasuries. It has lowered its holdings of US debt from $96.1 billion in March to just $14.9 billion in May.
The increased gold purchases come as the Trump administration gets ready to impose new sanctions on Moscow. The central bank’s First Deputy Governor Dmitry Tulin said that Moscow sees gold as a “100-percent guarantee from legal and political risks.”
The central bank also explained the strategy as part of diversifying the country’s reserves away from the US dollar.
According to the World Gold Council, Russia is not only the largest official buyer of gold but also the world’s third-biggest producer, with its central bank purchasing from domestic miners through commercial banks. In the past decade alone, Russia has mined more than 2,000 tons of gold, with annual production expected to rise by 400 tons by 2030.