Making it harder for Russia to use global banking system seen as vital, yet for years Moscow has weathered sanctions and prepared for the worst
Amid growing international anger over Russia’s war on Ukraine, economic sanctions have again become a favorite measure of leaders working to discourage war, including one particular banking mechanism that recently made headlines.
“I will not be diplomatic on this. Everyone who now doubts whether Russia should be banned from SWIFT has to understand that the blood of innocent Ukrainian men, women and children will be on their hands too. Ban Russia from SWIFT.”
As can be clearly understood from the words of Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, this SWIFT money transactions tool – standing for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Communications – has moved quickly to the heart of the sanctions debate, suggesting a possible full ban on Russian access to the international banking system.
Taking a step in this direction, the US, European Union, Britain, and Canada last weekend unveiled new sanctions, including blocking certain Russian lenders’ access to the SWIFT international payment system.
More residents developing respiratory illnesses due to polluted air in Bangladeshi capital
Rising numbers of people in Dhaka are developing respiratory illnesses in Bangladesh’s capital where clean air is rare and which continues to register one of the worst performances in a global healthy air index.Dhaka has seen only 38 days of clean air in the last six years, according to the Center for Atmospheric Pollution Studies at Stamford University Bangladesh. It also witnessed a 7% rise in air pollution in 2021 compared to the last five years.Dhaka was the world’s second most polluted city in 2019 and 2020, according to the Air Quality Index.In Bangladesh, some 50,000 children die of pneumonia every year, while it is responsible for around 28% of deaths among children under 5 years old, according to the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research.Sadia Sultana Reshma, an air health activist, told Anadolu Agency they are witnessing an alarming increase in patients with respiratory diseases.Last year, the National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital in Dhaka treated some 210,000 patients with respiratory diseases, with 60,000 of them admitted to the hospital.There were fewer patients admitted to hospitals in 2020, she said, citing an anonymous official.“The situation worsening due to the bad air in Dhaka” said Reshma, who is a respiratory disease specialist and intensive care unit consultant as well.Contaminated air in Dhaka contains heavy metals, particles and toxic gases, including a large amount of carbon dioxide, monoxide and sulfur, she said, adding, toxic gases are mostly emitted from vehicles, brick kilns, factories, and a growing number of construction activities in the city.“Inhaling the contaminated air causes interstitial lung disease, pneumonia or acute respiratory infections, tuberculosis and others, and we are getting such patients, including women and children, in Dhaka.“The toxic matter stored in the lungs and long-term inhalation of contaminated air causes the lungs to be damaged. Garments workers, traffic police and public bus drivers are the worst victims of Dhaka city air pollution,” she added.- Lack of proper monitoring, law implementationSpeaking to Anadolu Agency, Kazi Saifuddin Bennoor, a physician at the respiratory medicine department of the National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital, said there is no real time data on how many people are being affected by the bad air that due to lack of proper monitoring in Bangladesh.“But we are getting patients with respiratory complexity indoors and outdoors at our hospitals in a constant increase that is directly linked to the contaminated air. The number of patients with lung infections sees a 25% increase in the dry season, when air pollution takes a worst look.”Bennoor, who is also the co-secretary of the Bangladesh Lung Foundation, said “workplace air pollution has become a serious concern for countries like Bangladesh. Stone crushing and ship breaking plants are the most unsafe places for workers, as these ‘industries’ do not provide safety equipment to workers during the unsafe jobs.”He alleged that “we don’t see any major implementation of the concerned laws. Meanwhile, brick kilns do not follow the minimum height limit of furnaces and chimneys of brick kilns.”Bennoor also pointed out that transboundary pollution is a cause.“We have so many unhealthy factories and stone breaking fields in other countries along our border areas. We should engage in a diplomatic dialogue to stop such pollution as these are violating global norms and law,” he said.Both health experts suggested that city dwellers check daily air quality and plan outdoor activities on that basis. City authorities should also limit outdoor activities and shut schools to reduce exposure during extreme air pollution.Women and children are also becoming victims of indoor air pollution, according to an earlier study of the experts. It showed that women in villages faced lung diseases due to long stays in the kitchen and cooking in an unhealthy manner, they added.- Government says action being takenSpeaking to Anadolu Agency, Keya Khan, additional secretary of the Environmental Pollution Control Cell at the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, called the situation alarming and said the air in Dhaka is highly polluted and hospitals are seeing increasing numbers of patients.She said that development work in Dhaka is among the causes which fuels air pollution during the dry season but “we have already issued notifications to all concerned to cover construction materials and establishments properly to stop contamination.“We regularly conduct drives to seal illegal brick kilns and take other punitive measures for polluting the air. We have already sent the draft Air Pollution Control Rules to the Law Ministry for approval.”
Morning in Kyiv starts again with siren sounds following night of shelling
The sounds of siren warning the air raid on Ukraine’s capital Kyiv were heard again on Wednesday early morning while a number of explosions and shelling incidents were heard during the night.On the seventh day of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Kyiv still stands under the control of the Ukrainian forces, but many civilians were reportedly killed by Russian missiles mainly in Kharkiv, the second-largest city.Surroundings of Maidan Nezalezhnosti, an iconic Independence Square in Kyiv, have been turned into barricades with sand bags and anti-tank Czech hedgehogs as a long column of Russian forces was earlier reported heading towards the city.On Tuesday evening, a Russian missile targeted the Kyiv TV tower located on the territory of Babyn Yar.”On September 29-30, 1941, Nazis killed over 33 thousand Jews here. 80 years later, Russian Nazis strike this same land to exterminate Ukrainians. Evil and barbaric, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.’Estonia’s support for EU membership is important for Turkey’Greek opposition leader calls for dialogue with Turkey- Attacks on ZhytomyrAn adviser to Ukrainian Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko said he spoke to Zhytomyr Mayor Sergiy Sukhomlyn, noting that Russian forces Tuesday night “have missed the target and instead of the military base, hit the residential area.”He said that according to the initial reports, there were four casualties, including a child.The residential buildings near the base of the 95th Airborne Brigade in the city of Zhytomyr, some 75 miles west Kyiv, had been set on blazes, Gerashchenko said on Telegram.Emergency services said at least 10 houses were hit.Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry on Twitter reported that a maternity home in Zhytomyr was destroyed with Russian Kalibr cruise missile.Heavy fighting has been ongoing near the maternity home, located in the village of Buzova, near the Zhytomyr highway.All people were evacuated from the building, according to local sources.Under the Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994, in exchange of security guarantees from the US, UK, and Russia.Since Russia began its war on Ukraine last Thursday, it has been met by outrage from the international community, with the EU, UK, Canada, Japan, and the US implementing a range of economic sanctions on Moscow.At least 136 civilians, including 13 children, have been killed and 400 others, including 26 children, injured in Ukraine, according to UN figures.Around 680,000 people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries, the international body said Tuesday.Ukraine fighting for values of Europe, civilization, says parliament chiefUkrainian response indication of Putin’s ‘disastrous miscalculation’: UK premier
– ‘Emphasis on SWIFT a bit misplaced’
But according to Daniel Treisman, a UCLA political scientist and founder/director of the Russia Political Insight Project, the stress on restricting access to SWIFT may be a lot of ado about nothing much.
“The SWIFT system is essentially a messaging system by which banks communicate about monetary transfers, rather than the system that actually makes the transfers,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Although denying access to SWIFT creates problems for banks in the short run, in principle it is not so hard to work around these hurdles, he said.
“Russia has already created its own substitute system, which has been working for internal transactions and could potentially be extended to international transactions,” he explained, referring to the System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS), founded by Moscow in 2014.
“So I think the emphasis on SWIFT is a little misplaced.”
Blocking particular banks, as the US has done for instance to state-controlled VTB, Russia’s second-largest bank, prevents them not just from communicating but from making transfers in foreign currencies.
According to Treisman, in fact the most serious elements in the recent package of sanctions are those aimed at the Bank of Russia, the country’s central bank.
These sanctions would entail “freezing the assets of Russia’s central bank in foreign deposits and bonds,” he said, calling it a step “that would immobilize a big part of Russia’s more than $630 billion in currency and gold reserves.”
Russia’s largest lender Sberbank withdraws from EU market amid sanctions
Russia’s largest lender said Wednesday it is withdrawing from the European market as its subsidiaries there are facing large cash outflows amid Western sanctions.”In the current situation, Sberbank has decided to leave the European market,” it said in a statement. “The group’s subsidiary banks have faced abnormal cash outflows and threats to the safety of its employees and branches.”A few days ago the European Central Bank warned that Sberbank Europe AG and two subsidiaries of the bank in Croatia and in Slovenia are failing or likely to fail owing to a deterioration of their liquidity situation.The EU, US, UK, Canada and the EU Commission agreed Sunday to remove several Russian banks from the SWIFT banking system as Russia continued bombing Ukraine.Russia’s war in Ukraine disturbing world peace: Argentine presidentBelarus working with Turkiye to arrange meeting between Putin, Zelenskyy: Lukashenko
Serbia to join UN decisions on Ukraine but not for sanctions on Russia
Serbia will join all decisions of the UN General Assembly on the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity amid its war with Russia but will reject all those related to sanctions against Russia, its president said Tuesday.Aleksandar Vucic told reporters that during the UN General Assembly’s emergency special session Monday on the Ukrainian crisis, there was a vote for nine decisions, of which Serbia joined one, and that he would join another later.”Yesterday we had nine votes. In eight, we did not join, and in one we did. Today we have one where we will join,” he said.“For everything related to the demolition and violation of territorial integrity, Serbia will join. For the issue of sanctions, Serbia will not join, at least as long as we can endure this for a while, a few more days while I am the de facto president of the republic. Now after choosing someone else, that is a different story,” said Vucic.Most important targets for Russia are Ukraine’s Kyiv, Kharkiv cities, says ZelenskyyTurkey has no intention of joining sanctions against Russia, says FMAnswering a question on how long he will be allowed to sit in two chairs, both in Brussels and in Moscow, Vucic said Serbia already has its own chair.”We have our chair, and the pressures are huge on our country, and it will be very difficult to endure them. The question is how and what,” he said.Serbia’s National Security Council decided last week not to join the European Union in imposing sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine but lent support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity.Vucic said Serbia stands for peace and respects international law and will protect its interests.Since Russia’s war on Ukraine began last Thursday, it has been met with outrage from the international community, with the European Union, UK and US implementing a range of economic sanctions against Russia.Russia was further isolated after its planes were barred from flying in European and Canadian airspace, and a number of its banks were kicked out of the SWIFT international banking system.Russia still does not have air superiority over Ukraine, says US officialUkraine requests China’s help to get cease-fire with Russia
– Hole in sanctions
Barry Eichengreen, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, said cutting Russian banks off from SWIFT and prohibiting US and euro area banks from doing business in Russia could significantly strain the Russian economy.
“Not all Russian banks are barred from SWIFT, and not all financial transfers to and from Russian firms are prohibited, at least as yet,” he said. “Payment from Western Europe to Russian natural gas exporters is still being made, and the banks and firms most intimately involved in the energy business have been exempted so far.”
“That’s a hole in the sanctions that will have to be closed, and closing it will be painful for both sides,” he warned.
Freezing the foreign exchange reserves of the Russian central bank would prevent it from intervening to stabilize the ruble and from otherwise lending dollars and euros to companies in need, he said.
But the bank “has been moving its reserves from foreign central and commercial banks to the Bank for International Settlements, where they likely will continue to be freely available,” he said, referring to a Swiss-based international financial institution owned by a number of central banks. “You can see this movement in recent IMF data.”
According to Eichengreen, sanctions can’t stop Russian President Vladimir Putin from seeking to take over Ukraine but they can make it more painful for him to do so, encouraging internal opposition to his military adventure.
“So he may ponder a way of limiting his ambitions and declaring victory at the same time. What form those more limited ambitions might take is too early to say.”
Ukraine calls for equal opportunities for Africans seeking evacuation
Ukraine called early Wednesday for equal opportunities for Africans seeking to evacuate from the country.The move comes after videos on social media showing Africans being denied access to trains operating evacuations from Ukraine amid its war with Russia triggered outrage.“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has affected Ukrainians and non-citizens in many devastating ways. Africans seeking evacuation are our friends and need to have equal opportunities to return to their home countries safely,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter, reacting the issue.Assassination attempt on Ukrainian president prevented: Official’Estonia’s support for EU membership is important for Turkey’“Ukraine’s government spares no effort to solve the problem,” he added.The African Union expressed concern Monday over reports that Africans in Ukraine are being prevented from safely crossing the border to flee the war with Russia.Senegal’s President Macky Sall and African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat said in a joint statement that they were particularly disturbed by the reports.Nigeria has described the reactions of Ukrainian police at the borders against its citizens fleeing the country as extremely disheartening.Most important targets for Russia are Ukraine’s Kyiv, Kharkiv cities, says ZelenskyyZelensky urges Biden to send strong message during State of the Union
Assassination attempt on Ukrainian president prevented: Official
An assassination attempt against Ukraine’s president has been prevented, a government official claimed early Wednesday, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported on its website.The attempt on Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s life was planned by members of the elite unit of the Kadyrovtsy (Kadyrov followers), the report said, quoting Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, as saying on the air on the Ukraine 24 TV channel.”The special operation that was to be carried out directly by Kadyrovtsy to eliminate our president is fully known to us today. I can say that we received information from representatives of the FSB (Russia’s Federal Security Service) who have no desire to take part in this bloody war. Thanks to this, the Kadyrov elite group that came here to liquidate our president was killed,” Danilov told Ukraine 24.The Kadyrovtsy is a paramilitary organization in Chechnya that serves as the protection of Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic.Turkish communications director sends protest letter to US news network’Estonia’s support for EU membership is important for Turkey’Greek opposition leader calls for dialogue with Turkey
– Can sanctions sway Russia?
Western sanctions will not make Russia change course, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.
“The US are fans of sanctions, and the adherence to this practice has spread on to Europe. They probably believe they can persuade us to change our position by means of sanctions. Evidently, this is impossible,” Peskov told reporters on Tuesday.
“This is not the first such statement. And yes, the aggressive actions against our country are of an ultra-concentrated nature now. But these actions have taken place before, too,” Peskov added.
Russia has been facing Western sanctions since 2014, when it illegally took over Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, and as a result, many in the international community question sanctions’ effectiveness in changing Moscow’s behavior.
“I think the sanctions we’ve had in the last eight years haven’t really proven to have worked,” Nicholas Mulder, a Cornell University historian who has researched sanctions, told US public media outlet NPR.
According to Mulder, Russia appears to have taken measures to prepare for sanctions and seems to be “better prepared for an initial economic disruption than they were eight years ago.”
US President Joe Biden might have better luck changing Russia’s behavior by easing sanctions instead of ramping them up, Mulder has argued.
Despite the many doubts about their effectiveness, world leaders have been in favor of using such economic sanctions as a deterrent, rather than going to war.
And if they cannot dissuade Russia from continuing its war in Ukraine, perhaps at least they can help avoid the outbreak of World War III.
Turkish communications director sends protest letter to US news network
Turkish communications director sent a letter of protest Tuesday to US television network CBS News after it portrayed the Turkish metropolitan city of Istanbul as Greek territory in a report.Fahrettin Altun said in his letter that CBS News falsely identified “Istanbul, which has been part of our nation’s sovereign territory since 1453- as part of Greece in a recent report about the passage of Russian warships through the Straits,” according to Turkey’s Directorate of Communications.US closing airspace to Russia, going after oligarchs, says BidenBelarus working with Turkiye to arrange meeting between Putin, Zelenskyy: Lukashenko“Keeping in mind that Greece has been jeopardizing regional security and undermining NATO’s eastern flank by making maximalist demands over the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea, we hereby protest your organization’s misrepresentation of Turkey’s borders- which we hope, was an honest mistake- officially and unequivocally,” said Altun.“We expect your organization to take necessary measures in order to prevent a similar mistake from being made in the future and to refrain from taking any steps that could challenge our county’s territorial integrity as well as an apology regarding yesterday’s events,” he added.Turkey has no intention of joining sanctions against Russia, says FMExplosions heard in and around Ukraine’s capital
‘Estonia’s support for EU membership is important for Turkey’
Turkiye values Estonia’s support for its European Union membership, the Turkish parliament speaker said Tuesday.”Estonia’s support for Turkiye’s EU membership process is important to us. We have no doubt that this principled support will continue,” Mustafa Sentop said during a meeting with Mihhail Korb, head of the Estonia-Turkiye Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group, in the capital Ankara.Greek opposition leader calls for dialogue with TurkeyTop UN court to launch hearing on Ukraine war on March 7-8Sentop underlined that ties between the two NATO allies have reached a much more advanced level in the 30 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.Turkiye applied for EU membership in 1987 and its accession talks began in 2005. But negotiations stalled in 2007 due to objections of the Greek Cypriot administration, as well as opposition from Germany and France.Ankara also says Brussels has failed to keep its promises under the 2016 EU-Turkiye migration deal to help migrants and stem further migrant waves.Korb, for his part, expressed his gratitude for Turkiye’s role in hosting refugees.Turkiye already hosts around 4 million refugees, more than any other country in the world.US using secure satellite telephone to communicate with Zelenskyy: reportSeven civilians killed, 24 injured in Russian attack on Kharkiv governorate: Governor