© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock briefs the media following a meeting of German government’s crisis unit, at the foreign ministry in Berlin, Germany, February 24, 2022. Markus Schreiber/Pool via REUTERS
BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany changed its position on Saturday about imposing restrictions on Russia’s access to the SWIFT global interbank payment system, joining other Western powers in support of harsher sanctions aimed at halting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We are urgently working on how to limit the collateral damage of decoupling from SWIFT in such a way that it affects the right people. What we need is a targeted and functional restriction of SWIFT,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in a statement.
Germany, which has the EU’s biggest trade flows with Russia, had been reluctant to get on board with cutting off Russia from the world’s main international payments network, saying it must first weigh the economic consequences of such move.
Berlin’s change of heart comes as Russian forces continued to pound Kyiv and other cities with artillery and cruise missiles on day three of a campaign that has sent hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing west toward the European Union, clogging major highways and railway lines.
The move would hit Russian trade and make it harder for Russian companies to do business. SWIFT is a secure messaging system that facilitates rapid cross-border payments and is the principal mechanism for financing international trade.
Earlier on Saturday, Italy, the other European Union member that had voiced reservations over taking such a step, said it would support Russia’s disconnection from the payment system.
Greece also joined the EU line on SWIFT and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his government would not block any planned EU sanctions.
“This is the time to be united, it’s a war,” Orban said.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said a decision on SWIFT could happen in the “coming days”.