What is SWIFT, and why does it matter in the Russia-Ukraine war?

A demonstrator outside the Russian Embassy in Vienna holds a poster reading “Ban Russia from SWIFT” during a protest Feb. 26 against the invasion of Ukraine. (Hans Punz/AFP/Getty Images)
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As the United States, Canada and European allies prepared to step up pressure on Russian financial institutions this weekend, they vowed to cut some banks off from the SWIFT messaging system, a network that connects banks around the world and is considered the backbone of international finance.

Whether to target Russia through SWIFT was an initial point of division among Western nations on sanctions in the Ukraine crisis, with the French finance minister calling a move to cut Russia off from the mechanism a “financial nuclear weapon.”

Here’s what you need to know about SWIFT and the debate about whether to pressure the network to exclude Russian financial institutions.