Western nations have announced that select Russian banks will be removed from the SWIFT banking system as Russian troops continued to pound Ukraine‘s capital of Kyiv.
The exclusion from SWIFT has been described as a “financial nuclear weapon” by France’s finance minister because of the damage it can cause to Russia’s economy.
The system is used by 11,000 financial institutions in over 200 countries. It will make transactions more difficult and costlier for Russia when it is excluded.
The EU, France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., Canada, and the U.S. announced the move Saturday in a joint statement released by the White House. The payments system says that it is preparing to implement the new measures in the coming days.
The countries also said they will impose measures to restrict the Russian Central Bank from deploying its international reserves to undermine other sanctions.
They said in the statement that the removal from SWIFT will “ensure that these banks are disconnected from the international financial system and harm their ability to operate globally.”
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said cutting banks off would “effectively block Russian exports and imports.”
“Putin embarked on a path aiming to destroy Ukraine, but what he is also doing, in fact, is destroying the future of his own country,” she said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada “strongly supports” the removal of Russian banks from the SWIFT system.
A senior Biden official said Saturday that western allies are “disarming Fortress Russia.” The U.S. will also sanction two of Russia’s largest banks — the state-backed Sberbank and VTB.
The official said the actions are meant to prevent Russia from using $630 billion in central bank foreign currency reserves to aid the invasion of Ukraine.
The financial sanctions came as heavy fighting was reported across Kyiv, with explosions and artillery blasts heard in several neighborhoods and on the outskirts of the city.
Central Kyiv appeared quiet during the day Saturday, though sporadic gunfire could be heard. The capital is currently under a prolonged curfew that will run from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Huge explosions lit up the predawn sky south of Kyiv early Sunday, with one of the blasts occurring near the Zhuliany airport, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office.
The office also said Russian forces have blown up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city located near the Russian border, and warned that the explosion could cause an “environmental catastrophe.” A fierce battle for the city is currently underway.
The mayor of Vasylkiv, about 40 kilometers south of Kyiv, said an oil depot there was also hit. Despite the ongoing assault, the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence said Saturday evening that “Russian forces are not making the progress they had planned.” “They are suffering from logistical challenges and a strong Ukrainian resistance.”
A number of Russian troops have been taken prisoner by Ukrainian forces, according to the ministry.
Ignoring weeks of warnings from Western leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine on Thursday from the north, east, and south.
Russia claims its assault on Ukraine is aimed only at military targets, but civilians have been killed and injured during Europe’s largest ground war since World War Two.
As of Saturday, at least 240 civilians were killed, according to the U.N.Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence said at least six children have died, more than 1,100 people have been injured, including more than 100 children, and more than 350 civil infrastructure facilities have been destroyed.
The ministry also said that since Feb. 25, there has been an increase in the number of bombings of medical and educational institutions.
The conflict has forced nearly 150,000 Ukrainians to flee their homes for Poland, Moldova, and other neighboring countries, the UN Refugee Agency said and warned that the number could grow to 4 million if fighting escalates.
Fighting was underway on Saturday near the southern Ukrainian cities of Mariupol, Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Odesa, an adviser to the Ukrainian president’s office said. The military said Russian cruise missiles had also launched from the Black Sea.
Kyiv remains a key target, with Ukraine and the West saying that Vladimir Putin aims to topple the Ukrainian government by force. Zelinsky has said that he is Russia’s number one target and his family is number two. Despite pleas from the U.S. to leave Kyiv, he has decided to stay and has posted videos to social media of him on the streets.
Kyiv’s government shared a picture of the damage to what it said was a residential building in the Solomianskyi district of the city. The state emergency agency said there were no casualties.
Officials in Kyiv urged residents to seek shelter, to stay away from windows and to take precautions to avoid flying debris or bullets. Many spent Friday night in basements, underground parking garages and subway stations, and prepared to do the same on Saturday.
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Olga Fayziyeva, a Kyiv resident who moved to her parent's apartment in the capital after her brother and husband signed up with the Ukrainian forces, said it was “unimaginable” to see the crisis unfold in her country.
“It’s like a nightmare,” she told Global News. “But the most outrageous [thing] is that it isn’t a nightmare, it isn’t a dream. It’s our reality.”
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the capital remained in the hands of Ukrainian forces who were able to resist the Russian advance and the situation was under control.
“We have withstood and are successfully repelling enemy attacks. The fighting goes on,” Zelenskyy said in a video message posted on his social media.
Ukraine’s military said as of Saturday, 3,500 Russian troops had been killed and nearly 200 were taken as prisoners, although those numbers have not been confirmed.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s Chechnya region and an ally of Putin, said on Saturday Chechen fighters had been deployed in Ukraine and urged Ukrainians to overthrow their government.
“(Putin) took the right decision and we will carry out his orders under any circumstances,” said Kadyrov said in a video posted online.
Putin has not disclosed his ultimate plans for Ukraine or how long the Russian military operation could last. Both Putin and Zelenskyy spoke of possible talks on Friday.
Zelenskyy’s press department told Global News that the president is still open to negotiating with Putin.“He is ready to negotiate.
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He wants peace through negotiations, not death,” a spokesperson from Zelenskyy’s office said Saturday. “We will win,” he said, accusing Russia of hitting infrastructure and civilian targets.