While the flare up of Cold War 2.0 may seem like last week’s news, overnight something very notable happened that so far virtually nobody appears to have paid attention to. According to Russian Kommersant, none other than the biggest US bank, JPMorgan, was reported to be “reviewing counterpart relations with all Russian lenders” citing unidentified people. The review is part of JPMorgan’s push for transparency in banking and not part of sanctions against Russia over Crimea. Perhaps this is true: Kommersant added that Sberbank and VTB were contacted in January and February while another unidentified bank recently received letter saying JPMorgan would cease correspondent accounts with them on April 1.
JPM cleaning up its act is certainly plausible: after all the last thing the bank that has paid out nearly $30 billion in legal charges, penalties and settlements in the past few years need right now is more legal charges due to laundering Russian billionaires’ cash (coughHSBCcough) at a time when Russia, which has humiliated the US state department twice in under a year, is hardly perceived as a critical ally to the US. So one can see why JPM would be cautious in transacting with Russia financial entities.
And yet, while the headline sanctions so far have involved mostly freezing of Russian politician and oligarch assets in jurisdictions in where there were no such assets, it appears that JPM has not only escalated on its own but taken the Russian sanctions to an entirely new level: one which may quite promptly devolve into a complete monetary blockade of all of Russia.
Wait, did JPM just take a unilateral action, not mandated by the state department (because nowhere in the Russian sanction list does it say putting a freeze on Russian bank transfers), and refuse to process a simple money transfer? Why? And if indeed JPM is doing this, how long until all other US banks, most of which are just as allegedly criminal in dealing with offshore sources of illegal money, follow suit and leave Russia entirely in the world when it comes to USD-backed transactions.
Because what JPM may have just done is launch a preemptive strike which would have the equivalent culmination of a SWIFT blockade of Russia, the same way Iran was neutralized from the Petrodollar and was promptly forced to begin transacting in Rubles, Yuan and, of course, gold in exchange for goods and services either imported or exported.
One wonders: is JPM truly that intent in preserving its “pristine” reputation of not transacting with “evil Russians”, that it will gladly light the fuse that takes away Russia’s choice whether or not to depart the petrodollar voluntarily, and makes it a compulsory outcome, which incidentally will merely accelerate the formalization of the Eurasian axis of China, Russia and India.
At this point watch if any other US banks follow in JPM’s footsteps, and block money transfers to or from Russia. Because then will things get truly interesting.
As for the Russian response, it is coming and will most likely be matched in severity.