Did sanctioned Russian banks regain their access to the international system of cross-border money transfers in April 2023? No, that's not true: No such decision was made by the European Union or the United States, as of this writing.
The claim appeared in a tweet (archived here) published on April 22, 2023. It opened:
NEWS | Russia has been reconnected back to SWIFT after the country was removed over a year ago
This is what the post looked like on Twitter at the time of writing:
(Source: Twitter screenshot taken on Mon Apr 24 15:18:20 2023 UTC)
The claim circulated in multiple languages (for example, here and here) and across platforms, appearing on YouTube as well. The narrative was also promoted by the state-controlled Russian media such as RIA Novosti.
Many of these materials speculated that the purported decision was made specifically by the United States.
However, the claim is false: As of this writing, both European and American sanctions against Russian financial institutions remain in place.
SWIFT stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications. It is an international messaging system allowing banks to process cross-border payments. SWIFT operates as a private company headquartered in Belgium. Before the pandemic, 90 percent of international money transfers were processed through this system.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the European Union disconnected major state-controlled Russian banks from SWIFT, and after that, the list of sanctioned financial institutions continued to expand.
In late April 2023, the White House website did not contain any announcements about a full or partial reversal of the war-related sanctions on Russian banks.
The tweet did not cite any sources or other evidence to substantiate the claim.
No such press releases were published on the SWIFT website.
No credible media organizations reported that the event in the claim actually took place. If the claim were true, it would be considered a major event, and many journalists would be covering it extensively.
A longer variation of the claim on one blog post retelling an earlier English-language RT article linked the purported decision to "reconnect" Russia to SWIFT to the talks about shipments of Ukrainian grain as the previous deal was about to expire.
In March 2023, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres visited Kyiv. During that trip, he said that it was important to extend the grain agreement, but did not publicly promise to return SWIFT to Russia:
The Black Sea Grain Initiative, agreed last July in Istanbul, has provided for the export of 23 million tons of grain from Ukrainian ports. [...]
I want to underscore the critical importance of the rollover of the Black Sea Grain Initiative on 18 March and of working to create the conditions to enable the greatest possible use of export infrastructures through the Black Sea, in line with the objectives of the initiative.
Removing SWIFT-related sanctions from its agricultural bank was reported to be one of the key Russian demands in spring 2023 in the context of new rounds of negotiations over the question of Ukrainian grain.
On April 12, 2023, the BBC reported that the 2023 Pentagon leak contained files with Guterres's private communications from the time when the deal was initially reached. The documents suggested that the UN secretary-general emphasized his efforts to improve Russia's ability to export ... "even if that involves sanctioned Russian entities or individuals." According to the BBC article, the U.S. saw Guterres as too willing to accommodate Moscow, but it did not make specific references to SWIFT.
On the same day, the spokesperson for the UN secretary-general, Stéphane Dujarric, said the matter was discussed but the United Nations doesn't have the power to lift sanctions:
Obviously, the fact that a number of Russian financial institutions are not, if not all of them, I'm not sure, are not in the SWIFT system makes things more complicated. And we are in discussions with the people who are responsible for SWIFT and the Europeans and others on that. [...] I think there's some issues in which we have power. Very few, but this is not one of them. Secretary-General has no authority over SWIFT. He has no authority over Member States that impose unilateral sanctions. He has no authority over insurance companies, shipping companies. He can't tell them what to do.
Some Russian banks or Russian-based branches of international financial institutions kept access to SWIFT in the first months after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine but later were subject to new Kremlin-imposed rules, making private and business international transactions from or to the country increasingly more difficult.
As of 2023, Russia began promoting its own alternative system to boost its trade with other sanctioned states such as Iran.
Other Lead Stories fact checks about the war in Ukraine can be found here.