【英语财经】用金融制裁降服俄罗斯? The Swift way to get Putin to scale back his ambitions

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2014-5-15 06:36

小艾摘要: The disputed referendums in eastern Ukraine give President Vladimir Putin time to take stock and choose between two very different paths. The first involves grabbing more territory for Russia, attempt ...
The Swift way to get Putin to scale back his ambitions
The disputed referendums in eastern Ukraine give President Vladimir Putin time to take stock and choose between two very different paths. The first involves grabbing more territory for Russia, attempting to rebuild an empire in the old Soviet sphere, and accepting a prolonged confrontation with the west. The second is more pragmatic – and involves attempting to pocket his Crimean winnings and rebuild relations with the US and the EU.

Which path he chooses depends on events on the ground and, crucially, on the resistance that he encounters from the outside world.

The Kremlin has reason to pause and take stock because future rounds of economic sanctions aimed at Russia are potentially very damaging. Western governments have the power in effect to exclude Russia from the world’s financial system. The key to that system is based in Brussels. It is the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, otherwise known as Swift.

Even the sanctions enacted so far have come as an unpleasant surprise to the Kremlin. After all, far more blood was shed in the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 than the annexation of Crimea. Yet the west barely reacted to the Georgian war. (America’s diplomatic “reset” with Russia came just a few months later.) By contrast, the annexation of Crimea swiftly provoked sanctions – with the threat of more to come.

Moscow has tried to give the impression that it is unconcerned by the travel bans and asset seizures enacted. Prominent Russians who are on the banned list profess to be delighted.

The reality is that some in Mr Putin’s circle are genuinely dismayed by the restrictions on their ability to travel and move their money. Even more important, there is real anxiety in the Kremlin about what a third stage of sanctions could entail. In particular, the Russians fear the kinds of measure that cut off Iran from the global financial system.

In private, officials fulminate against the possibility of being shut out of the Swift system of international banking payments, a measure that was taken against Iran in 2012 and that would hugely complicate efforts to do international business from Russia. Without access to Swift it will become extremely difficult to transfer money in and out of Russia.

Swift is a private institution, owned by its member banks, and based in Brussels. But, as the Iran case illustrated, it is susceptible to pressure from the EU and the US. European and American financial sanctions against Iran forced Swift to take action last time. Similar measures against Russia are on the list of possible sanctions.

Nonetheless, western officials are also aware of the downside of using the Swift weapon. It is advantageous to the west that such a significant part of the world’s financial structure is run from Europe – and indeed, based in the same city as the EU and Nato. The fact that Russian people and institutions use Swift for their financial transactions makes it easier for western governments to monitor how they are moving their money around. Cutting Russia out of Swift would cause chaos in Moscow in the short term.

In the longer term, however, it might hasten the day when Russia and, more significantly, China establish alternative systems for moving money between international banks. This is no easy task – otherwise it would have been done already. But it is something that the Russians and Chinese are known to be looking at.

Just as it is not in the west’s interests to fracture the governance of the internet, so it might be damaging in the long term to block the financial pipes that are needed to sustain a global economic system, particularly when those pipes are routed through the west.

However, even if the US and the EU decided that including Swift in a stage-three sanctions package would be too drastic a step for now, there are other ways of hitting Russia with severe financial sanctions. Indeed, America could act alone, without the need for similar measures by the more cautious EU, by forcing international financial institutions to choose between doing business in Russia and doing business in America.

Even though Russia is the eighth- largest economy in the world, it is hard to think of any big financial institution that would voluntarily cut itself off from the dollar system so that it could keep its Moscow office open.

Would the US really go this far? Not as things stand. But if the Russian government is intent on annexing more of Ukraine and threatening other independent nations that were once part of the Soviet Union – such as Moldova, Georgia or the Baltic states – it is inevitable that there will be further sanctions packages. At some point on the ladder of escalation, serious financial sanctions, probably involving Swift, would move from pulp fiction to reality.

Of course, if Mr Putin really imagines himself as a new emperor, intent on reclaiming for Moscow the old territories of the Soviet Union – whatever the cost – then these kinds of risk will not deter him. However, the evidence of the Putin years suggests that while the Russian president is bold, he is not mindlessly reckless.

The west should now make it very clear to Mr Putin, preferably in private, just how damaging stage-three sanctions could be. Frank messages now may help the Russian president to decide which path to take.

乌克兰东部颇具争议的公投令俄罗斯总统弗拉基米尔?普京(Vladimir Putin)有时间评估局势,在两条截然不同的道路之间做出选择。第一条道路是为俄罗斯攫取更多领土,尝试在前苏联势力范围内重建帝国,接受与西方长期对峙的局面。第二条道路则更加务实——把在克里米亚取得的成果放入囊中收好,并与美国和欧盟(EU)重建关系。

普京选择哪条道路既取决于局势进展,又取决于他遇到的外部阻力,后一个因素相当关键。

克里姆林宫有理由停下来权衡下利弊,因为未来针对俄罗斯的多轮经济制裁可能具有强大的破坏力。西方国家政府实际上有能力将俄罗斯排除出世界金融体系。该体系的关键是位于布鲁塞尔的环球银行金融电信协会,亦称SWIFT。

对克林姆林宫来说,即便是西方迄今为止实施的制裁,也是一个令人不快的意外。毕竟,俄罗斯2008年入侵格鲁吉亚时造成的伤亡要比兼并此次克里米亚多得多,但西方对格鲁吉亚战争却几乎没有反应。(那场战争结束仅仅几个月之后,美国便与俄罗斯“重置”了外交关系。)相比之下,此次兼并克里米亚却迅速招致制裁——西方还威胁要实施更多制裁。

莫斯科方面试图给人以一种印象:它对业已实施的旅行禁令和资产扣押毫不担心。上了禁令名单的俄罗斯知名人士还自称“很高兴”。

但真实情况是,普京圈子里的一些人真的对旅行和资金转移受限感到沮丧。更重要的是,克里姆林宫真的担忧第三轮制裁可能包含的内容。俄罗斯人尤其担心那种将伊朗排除出全球金融体系的措施。

俄罗斯官员私下里强烈谴责将该国排除出SWIFT国际银行支付系统的可能举动,这种措施曾在2012年针对伊朗实施过,此番一旦实施将大大增加在俄罗斯进行国际商业往来的难度。如果不能使用SWIFT,将资金转入、转出俄罗斯会变得极为困难。

SWIFT是私立机构,由会员银行所有,总部位于布鲁塞尔。但正如伊朗的例子所阐释的那样,它容易受到欧盟和美国压力的影响。上一次,欧洲和美国对伊朗实施的金融制裁迫使SWIFT采取了行动。对俄罗斯采取类似措施也在制裁的候选方案之列。

然而,西方官员也认识到动用SWIFT武器的不利一面。西方的优势在于,世界金融架构如此重要的一环,其运营中心是在欧洲,并且与欧盟和北约(Nato)的总部位于同一城市。俄罗斯人和俄罗斯机构通过SWIFT进行金融交易,这使得西方国家政府能够更容易地监控他们的资金转移情况。如果将俄罗斯排除出SWIFT,短期内将在莫斯科引发混乱。

但长期来看,这可能会促使俄罗斯和中国(后者更重要)更早地建立另一套用于跨国银行间资金转移的系统。这并非易事,否则它早就建立起来了。但我们知道的是,俄罗斯和中国确实在考虑这么做。

正如互联网治理碎片化不符合西方利益一样,堵住维系全球经济体系所需的金融管道,长期来看可能也有破坏性影响,特别是考虑到这些管道途径西方。

然而,即便美国和欧盟认定在第三波制裁中纳入SWIFT目前而言过于严厉,它们也可以祭出别的办法,通过其他严厉的金融制裁打击俄罗斯。事实上,美国可以单独行动——无需态度更为谨慎的欧盟采取类似措施——迫使国际金融机构选择要么在俄罗斯做生意、要么在美国做生意。

虽然俄罗斯是世界第八大经济体,但很难想象会有大型金融机构甘愿为维持莫斯科分部的业务而自绝于美元体系。

美国真的会走到这一步吗?从目前形势来看,不会。但如果俄罗斯政府执意要兼并乌克兰的更多领土,并威胁其他曾是苏联成员国的独立国家(如摩尔多瓦、格鲁吉亚或波罗的海三国),那么进一步的制裁将是不可避免的。如果事态持续升级,严厉的金融制裁(很可能会包含SWIFT)终将从低俗小说的杜撰演变为现实。

当然,如果普京真以为自己是新沙皇,执意要不惜代价为俄罗斯收复前苏联的旧有领土,那么他就不会被诸如此类的风险吓退。然而,普京这些年的执政经历表明,这位俄罗斯总统虽然胆子大,但并非盲目蛮干的人。

西方应当向普京(最好是私下里)阐明第三波制裁的潜在破坏性。开诚布公或许能帮助普京决定走上哪条道路。

译者/何黎

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