Russian banks say debit cards may stop working due to Western sanctions


ukraine war

February 25, 2023 | 2:54 PM

Russian banks are warning debit cardholders that new sanctions from the US and UK could mean their cards stop working abroad.

Emails from multiple Russian banks urging their customers to withdraw money from accounts linked to UnionPay cards as soon as possible came a day after the US and UK introduced sweeping new sanctions that prevented the rejection of approved transactions from a list of Russian financial institutions.

UnionPay is a Chinese payment system that some Russian banks used before the war, and more used it after MasterCard and Visa withdrew from the country after the invasion a year ago.

According to the US Treasury Department, the sanctions will go into full effect on May 25.

“Due to the imposed sanctions, operations on your UnionPay card abroad may be suspended for the foreseeable future,” Zenit Bank, which is on the sanctions list, wrote in a massive email, Russian business channel RBC reported. “We recommend withdrawing the necessary funds as soon as possible.”

Russian banks under the latest Western sanctions warned customers abroad that their UnionPay cards may no longer work.

Other banks followed suit.

“If you are not in Russia, withdraw money from your UnionPay card. In the Russian Federation, all cards work as usual, but problems may arise abroad: it is better to withdraw cash,” said a message from MTS Bank.

Similar warnings also came from Primorye Banks, Bank Saint Petersburg and Uralsib Bank. In all, five of UnionPay’s dozen car issuers from Russia are on the new sanctions list.

The sanctions will come into full force on May 25.
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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the sanctions are designed to cut off money for the Russian military in response to the ongoing war.

“Over the past year, we have taken actions with a historic coalition of international partners to downgrade Russia’s military-industrial complex and reduce the revenue it uses to fund its war,” Yellen said in a press release Friday. “Our sanctions have had both short- and long-term consequences, evident in Russia’s struggle to replenish its arms and its isolated economy.”

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