As published on timesofmalta.com, Wednesday 2 March, 2022.
The US administration has added its voice to a chorus calling for Russians to be blocked from having access to controversial passports-for-cash schemes.
Western allies have agreed on a new array of financial sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, including taking the key step of banishing a number of Russian banks from the SWIFT interbank system.
The White House said a group of world powers were “resolved to continue imposing costs on Russia that will further isolate Russia from the international financial system and our economies”.
This mirrors a similar statement by the European Commission over the weekend.
Brussels has said wealthy Russians connected to Vladimir Putin’s government will no longer be allowed to use the so-called golden passport system to obtain European citizenship for themselves and their family members.
Malta is among the countries that sell citizenship to such wealthy investors.
Prime Minister Robert Abela has, so far, avoided saying whether Malta will move to block Russian applicants to the country’s citizenship-by-investment programme, despite a growing pressure to do so.
It remains unclear how the new measures will be implemented, with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen saying EU leaders could request amendments to minimise the effect of the measures on their economies.
Alex Muscat, the parliamentary secretary responsible for citizenship, argued on Monday afternoon that Malta's passport scheme does not qualify as a "golden passport" scheme as it includes residency requirements.
Meanwhile, Western powers say that they will move to restrict Moscow’s central bank operations and sales of so-called ‘golden passports’ to Russian investors.
With Ukraine forces resisting the Russian advance, Western officials say there is a genuine interest in ensuring Putin pays the maximum price for the invasion.
Chief among steps to do so was “ensuring that selected Russian banks are removed from the SWIFT messaging system”, the White House said in a joint statement, which also included the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and Canada.
SWIFT’s messaging system allows commercial banks to communicate rapidly and securely about transactions and cutting Russia off would cripple its trade with most of the world.
The move comes after embattled Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday again asked European nations to sever Russia from the SWIFT system.
Questions sent to Office of Prime Minister were not answered by the time of writing.