UPDATED: EU checking if cryptoassets being used to bust Russian sanctions, Bans RT, Sputnik over Ukraine disinformation

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BRUSSELS, March 2 (Reuters) – Russian state-controlled media outlets RT and Sputnik will be banned in the European Union with immediate effect for systematic disinformation over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the 27-country bloc said on Wednesday in an unprecedented move.

The sanction means EU operators will be prohibited from broadcasting, facilitating or otherwise contributing to the dissemination of any RT and Sputnik content.

Broadcasting licences or authorisation, transmission and distribution arrangements between the two companies and their EU counterparts will also be suspended.

The ban applies to RT’s English unit and operations in Britain, Germany, France and Spain.

“Systematic information manipulation and disinformation by the Kremlin is applied as an operational tool in its assault on Ukraine,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement. “It is also a significant and direct threat to the Union’s public order and security.”

Facebook owner Meta , Alphabet Inc’s Google , YouTube and TikTok are already blocking access to RT and Sputnik in the EU. Twitter  has said it will comply with the EU ban.

LONDON, March 2 (Reuters) – The European Commission is studying whether cryptoassets are being used to get round financial sanctions imposed on Russian banks following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, a senior European Union official said on Wednesday.

Trading volumes between the Russian rouble and the Tether cryptocurrency spiked on Monday as the local currency tumbled to a record low on Western sanctions. 

Crypto-exchange Binance has, however, blocked accounts of any Russian clients targeted by sanctions. 

A senior EU official said the EU is aware that cryptoassets were a “possible circumvention route” to avoid sanctions imposed by the bloc and other western powers.

The EU’s executive European Commission has been reading reports in the press on cryptoassets and has also received information directly, the official said.

“The increase in value of some of these assets maybe a response to attempts to circumvent the sanctions. We are looking into this, but no decision has been taken,” the EU official said.

The European Union is excluding seven Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system that underpins global transactions as part of its sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU official journal said on Wednesday.

The banks, which will be given 10 days to wind-down their SWIFT operations, are Russia’s second-largest bank VTB , along with Bank Otrkitie, Novikombank, Promsvyazbank , Bank Rossiya, Sovcombank and VEB.

A senior EU official explained that the banks on its list were chosen based on their connections to the Russian state, with public banks already subject to sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“All these banks that we have listed under SWIFT… they are all based on their connection to the state and the implicit connection to the war effort. We have not gone for a blanket ban across the whole banking system,” the official said.

Sberbank , Russia’s largest lender, and Gazprombank  have not been included in the list because they are the main channels for payments for Russian oil and gas, which EU countries are still buying despite the conflict.

The EU official said it was not possible simply to allow energy-related transactions and exclude others as SWIFT was unable to differentiate between types of payments. The official added that these two banks were nevertheless subject to other measures.

The European Union, United States, Britain and Canada moved on Saturday to block certain Russian banks from SWIFT, although did not say at that point which banks would be hit. 

SWIFT has some 11,000 members and has no clear global rival. China has set up a system, although it remains small, EU officials said, while despite the existence of a Russian system, SWIFT was still used for some 70% of transfers within Russia.

Otherwise, banks could still carrying out transfers through work-arounds such as faxes or bilateral messaging systems, if they existed.

Photo – Ukrainian Flag is raised at the EP building in Strasbourg. Source EP

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