[WATCH] Brussels to clamp down on golden passports to Russians, will remove banks from SWIFT

European Commission to remove Russian banks from SWIFT, freeze Russian central bank transactions, and limit sale of citizenship to wealthy Russians connected to Putin

Ursula von der Leyen (left) in a European Council meeting with Malta prime minister Robert Abela
Ursula von der Leyen (left) in a European Council meeting with Malta prime minister Robert Abela

The European Commission will propose measures to EU leaders to remove Russian banks from SWIFT and freeze transactions of the Russian Central Bank, as well as limit the sale of EU passports to Russian elites, president Ursula von der Leyen announced on Saturday night.

Von der Leyen said that the Commission, in coordination with the USA, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and the UK, had agreed on new measures that will be proposed EU leaders “to strengthen our response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and cripple Putin’s ability to finance his war machine.”

On 24 February, Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine, which he called “a special military operation based on a request from the heads of the Donbass republics” – the breakaway Russian-speaking region in Ukraine.

The new sanctions proposed by Brussels include the removal of a “certain number of Russian banks” from SWIFT, the international bank transactions messaging service. “It will stop them from operating worldwide and effectively block Russian exports and imports.”

“Second, we will paralyse the assets of Russia’s central bank. This will freeze its transactions. And it will make it impossible for the Central Bank to liquidate its assets.”

Specifically, Von der Leyen said the EC will commit to taking measures to limit the sale of so-called golden passports “that let wealthy Russians connected to the Russian government become citizens of our countries and gain access to our financial systems.”

Von der Leyen had already warned that Malta’s citizenship-by-investment scheme has to stop in a visit to Prime Minister Robert Abela.

The Labour government has so far ignored calls to stop the sale of passports to Russian high-net-worth individuals, with ministers sticking to a stock reply that Malta will be in step with all sanctions agreed upon by the EU.

“We will work to prohibit Russian oligarchs from using their financial assets on our markets,” Von der Leyen said.

Greens say Malta should scrap golden passports to Russians

Von der Leyen also said the Commission will launch a transatlantic task force that will ensure the effective implementation of financial sanctions by identifying and freezing the assets of sanctioned individuals and companies that exist within our jurisdictions.

“As a part of this effort we are committed to employing sanctions and other financial and enforcement measures on additional Russian officials and elites close to the Russian government, as well as their families, and their enablers to identify and freeze the assets they hold in our jurisdictions. We will also engage other governments and work to detect and disrupt the movement of ill-gotten gains, and to deny these individuals the ability to hide their assets in jurisdictions across the world.”

Frequently asked questions: Restrictive measures (sanctions)

The EU has already decided to sanction Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation and Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. The Council also agreed on a further package of individual and economic measures covering also Belarus to respond to the unprovoked and unjustified military aggression carried out by the Russian Federation against Ukraine.

“We, the leaders of the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States condemn Putin’s war of choice and attacks on the sovereign nation and people of Ukraine,” Von der Leyen said.

“We stand with the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people in their heroic efforts to resist Russia's invasion. Russia’s war represents an assault on fundamental international rules and norms that have prevailed since the Second World War, which we are committed to defending. We will hold Russia to account and collectively ensure that this war is a strategic failure for Putin.”

News of the proposals came on the back of meetings held first between EU prime ministers, then by foreign ministers, for raft of severe measures against Russian president Vladimir Putin, ministers, MPs and oligarchs, in response to the unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine.