The officials declined to say whether the United States was prepared to cut Russia off from the SWIFT system, which executes global financial transactions between more than 1,100 banks in 200 countries. But European officials say they have discussed that possibility — something most major European powers had declined to consider until recently, for fear that Russia might retaliate by attempting to cut off gas and oil flows in the winter, even briefly.
The SWIFT cutoff has been used against Iran with some success. But Cynthia Roberts, a professor of political science at Hunter College, noted that Russia had learned a lot about “global sanctions-proofing,” and she expressed doubt that the country would suffer as much as American officials contend if it were disconnected from SWIFT.
“They would definitely take a big hit,” she said at a seminar held this past week by the Center for the National Interest. But she noted that Russia had stockpiled hundreds of billions in gold and dollar reserves and that the Bank of China had joined Russia’s own domestic version of SWIFT. That raises the possibility that Russia and China, as part of their expanding partnership, might join forces to help Moscow evade the West’s action.
The bottom line, she said, is that “sanctions have a very poor coercive track record.”
The technology sanctions would target some of Mr. Putin’s favored industries — particularly aerospace and arms, which are major producers of revenue for the Russian government. The focus would be on Russian-built fighter aircraft, antiaircraft systems, antisatellite systems, space systems and emerging technologies where Russia is hoping to make gains, like artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
Similar export controls have been surprisingly effective against China’s leading producer of cellphones, Huawei, which for a while was among the top providers of smartphones to the world. That part of its business has all but collapsed in the past year because it cannot obtain advanced chips. But the Russian economy bears little resemblance to China’s, and it remains unclear whether it is as vulnerable to technology embargoes.
The options under consideration go well beyond merely banning the sale of computer chips. In one additional step, according to American officials, the Commerce Department could issue a ruling that would essentially ban the export of any consumer goods to Russia — from cellphones and laptop computers to refrigerators and washing machines — that contain American-made or American-designed electronics. That would apply not only to American makers, but also to European, South Korean and other foreign manufacturers that use American chips or software.
Unlike China, Russia does not make many of these products — and the effects on consumers could be broad.