The United States and the European Union said Saturday that selected Russian banks will be removed from a crucial global international payment system, the latest in a series of sanctions in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Some European countries such as Germany had been cautious about cutting Russia off from the so-called SWIFT system due to possible repercussions they may face if trade halts with Moscow, but they apparently feel the need to show a tougher stance against Russia's chilling military aggression against its neighboring country.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the White House, giving an update on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, on Feb. 24, 2022, in Washington. (Los Angeles Times/Getty/Kyodo)

"Russia's war represents an assault on fundamental international rules and norms that have prevailed since the Second World War," the leaders of Britain, Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy and the United States said in a joint statement.

"We will hold Russia to account and collectively ensure that this war is a strategic failure for (Russian President Vladimir) Putin," they added.

A senior U.S. official said the list of banks to be excluded from SWIFT will be finalized by the European Union, since the Belgium-headquartered service provider is under Belgian jurisdiction.

But the official said the banks will be picked carefully to "maximize the impact on Russia and minimize the spillovers" to Europe and the global economy.

SWIFT, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is a provider of global messaging services for financial transactions, connecting more than 11,000 banks, financial institutions and corporations in more than 200 countries and territories, according to its website.

Once removed from the network, Russian banks will have to rely on phone or a fax machine to make or receive a payment with a bank outside Russia, the U.S. official said, adding that the likely result is that "most banks around the world will simply stop transacting altogether with Russian banks that are removed from SWIFT."

The United States, the European Union and other countries also plan to take measures to ensure that Putin cannot use the Russian central bank's $600 billion in foreign reserves to halt the ruble's depreciation.

If the ruble cannot be bought by the central bank from Western financial institutions, it will fall further and inflation will spike in the country, the official said.

Excluding Russia from the SWIFT system has been called the "nuclear option" because of its potentially devastating consequences.

When Iranian banks were disconnected from SWIFT over Tehran's nuclear program, the country lost almost half of its oil export revenues and 30 percent of foreign trade, according to experts.

But such a move could have major repercussions for countries relying on Russia for energy resources, wheat and other commodities. A stall in such trade could also push up prices around the world at a time when rising inflation is already a concern.

The United States, the European Union and other U.S. allies including Japan have already been rolling out a series of sanctions on Russia, including imposing freezes on assets held by certain Russian banks.

The United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have also supplied Ukraine with armaments and other security assistance to help the former Soviet republic defend itself.

But Russian forces, which began their attack Thursday, have continued to press on, raising fears of Ukraine's capital Kyiv falling and concern that Putin may be seeking to send troops beyond Ukraine into other countries.

Photo taken Feb. 24, 2022, in the southern Russian oblast of Rostov shows a military vehicle driving toward Ukraine. Russia launched a military attack on Ukraine the same day. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Near the White House earlier Saturday, a few hundred people, including Ukrainians living in the United States, held a rally to call on the administration of President Joe Biden to help Ukraine, such as by providing more armaments.

Nataliia Penkovska (R), a 50-year-old Ukrainian who lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, attends a rally with her husband to call for support for Ukraine near the White House in Washington on Feb. 26, 2022. (Kyodo)

Nataliia Penkovska, a 50-year-old Ukrainian who lives in Philadelphia, said she came to speak out for family members and friends who "can't raise their voices now because they are hiding from bomb attacks" from Russia.

She said the invasion of Ukraine should be considered a threat to all of Europe and the world because Russia has nuclear weapons and no one knows what Putin has in mind.

She also called for other countries, including Japan, to step up efforts to support Ukraine and defend freedom, saying that she hopes her feelings will resonate in the Asian country given its experience of atomic bombings in World War II.

"I know what tragedy Japanese people faced in 1945. So 'never again,' and we have to raise our voice now," Penkovska said.

Demonstrators call for support for Ukraine in front of the White House in Washington on Feb. 26, 2022. (Kyodo) 

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