Russians waited in long queues outside ATMs on Sunday, worried that new Western sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine will trigger cash shortages and disrupt payments.
Moves to block some Russian banks from the SWIFT global payments system and freeze the Bank of Russia’s reserves are expected to deal a severe economic blow, although Russian authorities and lenders sought to assuage fears.
Mastercard and Visa are suspending their operations in Russia in the latest blow to the country’s financial system after its invasion of Ukraine.
Mastercard said its network would no longer support cards issued by Russian banks, and any card issued outside the country would not work at Russian stores or ATMs.
“We don’t take this decision lightly,” Mastercard said in a statement, adding that it made the move after discussions with customers, partners and governments.
Visa said it was working with clients and partners in Russia to cease all Visa transactions over the coming days.
“We are compelled to act following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and the unacceptable events that we have witnessed,” Visa chairman and chief executive officer Al Kelly said in a statement.
The suspensions are a follow-up to more limited moves earlier in the week to block financial institutions from the networks that serve as arteries for the payments system.
Russian people have already been hit hard by heavy sanctions and financial penalties imposed by the countries around the world.
Since the invasion of Ukraine, the value of the Russian currency, the rouble, has plunged by more than a third to a record low.
That is pushing up inflation for Russian households, and all the fear has helped cause some tremendously long lines at ATMs.
Russian leaves the country
At Vaalimaa, Finland’s border crossing with Russia – 120 miles east of Helsinki – buses and cars stop for passport and customs checks. These aren’t Ukrainians, they’re Russians, and although the flow isn’t heavy, it is constant.
Some people are anxious to get out of Russia because there has been a persistent rumour that President Vladimir Putin’s government might soon introduce martial law to deal with demonstrations against the invasion of Ukraine.
With flights to Europe halted, the only way out of the country is by car – crossing this border – or by train.
We spoke to one young Russian woman who was leaving for the West – one of the lucky ones who had an EU visa before the sanctions were announced. She was in despair at what has been happening.
“People in Ukraine are our people – our family,” she said. “We shouldn’t be killing them.” Would she think of going back, I asked? “Not while our dreadful government is there. It is so, so sad.”
She said most Russians don’t want this war, but they risk going to jail if they try to stand up to Putin.
In Finland, there’s immense sympathy for people like her – just as there is for Ukraine and its inhabitants. This sympathy, and the fear that Russia might lash out at other neighbours such as Finland itself, is changing attitudes to Finland’s traditional leanings toward neutrality.
According to the latest opinion polls, a growing majority of Finns believe that it’s time for their country to join Nato and access the protection that membership of the alliance would bring.
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