Sanctions on Russia: SWIFT

Thursday afternoon 6:00 PM

For some reason, I woke up at 1:30 AM and reached for my mini.  The first tweet I saw read: “Russia Declared War on Ukraine.”  I was up and in my study/studio in five minutes.  I have been there pretty much ever since.

After watching the news and reading tweets from reporters, a lot of them from Ukraine, I wondered why Biden was not on television.  Then, they announced that he would be making a statement about the “crushing sanctions” at 9 AM.  Well, that didn’t happen.  Then, it was 12 noon.  That didn’t happen either.  Finally he spoke at 1:30 and the “crushing sanctions” were not apparent.  Biden spent a lot of time talking about sanctions that had already been imposed, bragging about them.  He spent time talking about domestic political considerations like the fear of rising gas prices.  He spent a lot of time praising himself for bringing “unity” to NATO, as if that (like bipartisanship) was an end in itself.  He did not, however, announce an impressive array of new sanctions, the sanctions we were being told were being held to implement if and when Putin invaded.  Putin invaded last night. 

There is a curiously circular narrative about sanctions.  We were supposedly waiting to impose sanctions so that we would have something to threaten Putin with to keep him from invading.  We were told we should ignore the Ukrainians, Zelensky in particular, pleading for the implementation of sanctions before the economy fell apart and the country had been overtaken.  We had to have leverage to deter Putin.

Then, after Putin invaded, we were told that sanctions wouldn’t really deter anybody.  What?  If they wouldn’t deter, why wait to implement them when Russian troops were already bombing and moving into Ukraine?  After Zelensky pleaded for sanctions now, the Biden administration promises in tough talking sound bites that we would impose immediate “crushing” (I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that word) sanctions.  But, we didn’t. 

Then, Biden explained that sanctions would take a long time to have an effect.  If that was the case why didn’t they implement them months ago, in fact, a year ago when Biden took office.  Russia had already annexed Crimea, taken over parts of Donbas, and squatted in Moldova. 

None of this makes any sense without facing the utter feckless, cowardly stance of the Biden administration about holding those in power accountable.  They refuse to hold Putin accountable and they refuse to hold accountable Donald Trump who organized a coup.  Instead, they prefer to plead and cajole and try to win favor.  Biden bragged in the press conference about bring “unity” to NATO, as if that (like bipartisanship) was an end in itself.

Weeks ago, the European press was reporting that Biden had taken removal of Russia from SWIFT off the negotiating table.  He removed this like he removed use of U.S. troops.  He didn’t have to.  The U.S. press, as far as I could see, didn’t even report the story of Biden’s (very Obama like) pre-emptive capitulation on SWIFT.  Reuters reported the existence of the European story, but did not appear to even try to confirm the story.  No White House reporter I heard even asked Biden whether he had already taken SWIFT off the table.

Soon after I read the article about SWIFT, articles started to appear diminishing the estimation of the utility of removing Russia from SWIFT.  I wondered at the time if these articles were put out to support Biden’s capitulation.  But, the story barely made a ripple. 

Biden refused to answer a reporter’s question in the press conference when asked what (the hell) he was waiting for.  Zelensky (who should know) is again demanding that the international community remove Russia from SWIFT.


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