Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday asked for the Biden administration to impose sanctions on Russia immediately, rather than waiting for a Russian attack on his country.
Zelensky made a similar request of President Joe Biden personally during a phone conference in December, without success.
The Washington Post asked Zelensky about his support for a sanctions bill against Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
President Biden’s Democrat Party used a filibuster to block the bill last week, at the same time they were denouncing the filibuster as an instrument of white supremacy and obstructionism. Skeptical observers also pointed out that Democrats seemed awfully eager to protect Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s big money-making pipeline after years of howling about “Russian collusion” as the ultimate sin.
“I just want to make this clear. As a country that is building a powerful economy and undergoing reforms, I support imposing sanctions now. I asked one leader: ‘Why do you support sanctions against Russia in case there is an invasion into Ukraine? Why do you need sanctions after we lose the whole territory of Ukraine?’” Zelensky told the Washington Post on Thursday.
“Sanctions are considered to be a preventive tool because they can be applied and then lifted. If there is an invasion by Russia, do you introduce powerful sanctions after we might have already lost several territories? Once you introduce sanctions, what will Russia do?” he elaborated.
Zelensky agreed with the Washington Post’s observation that Russia could be ready to “tough out” sanctions imposed after an invasion begins.
“Exactly. So once you introduce even powerful sanctions, they will look at you and say, ‘Listen, we can deal with this, we can continue as it was.’ I think this is wrong,” the Ukrainian president said.
Zelensky apparently disagreed with Germany for ruling out one particularly potent action: sanctions that would block Russia from using the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) global payment system.
“I cannot see why the world should not be united regarding the introduction of sanctions,” Zelensky remarked.
SWIFT is a network employed for money transfers by almost all of the world’s major financial institutions. Severing Russia’s links to SWIFT would be one of the toughest possible punitive actions, the “nuclear option,” as Radio Free Europe (RFE) described it.
The only SWIFT disconnection to date occurred in 2012 when Iran was locked out of the network, but Iran was not extensively utilizing SWIFT at the time, so the impact was relatively minor. Russia would probably feel considerably more pain, perhaps enough to trigger a nationwide financial collapse, although RFE speculated Europe is so hungry for Russian oil and natural gas that an alternative payment system would probably be cobbled together.
Some German officials say SWIFT sanctions against Russia have not been fully ruled out, and the Biden White House implied they could still be among the “severe consequences for Russia if it further invades Ukraine.”
Zelensky asked Biden for preemptive sanctions against Russia in a December 9 telephone conversation, including action against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which Zelensky denounced over the summer as a “dangerous geopolitical weapon of the Kremlin.” His request for sanctions was ignored by Biden.
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