London/Paris (CNN Business)Russian stocks crashed by more than 40% and the ruble hit a record low against the dollar on Thursday.
The Moscow market rout was triggered by news that Russian troops had launched an attack on Ukraine, a move that is likely to trigger a new wave of “full scale” sanctions aimed at President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and Russia’s oil-dependent economy.
A broad offensive by Russian forces targeted military infrastructure across Ukraine as well as several airports. The assault began hours before dawn and quickly spread across central and eastern Ukraine as Russian forces attacked from three sides. Putin warned of bloodshed unless Ukrainian forces lay down their arms.
The Moscow stock exchange had suspended trading earlier on Thursday but when dealing resumed, stocks went into free-fall.
The MOEX index plunged as much as 45%, while the RTS index — which is denominated in dollars — was down more than 40% at 4.15 a.m. ET. The crash wiped about $75 billion off the value of Russia’s biggest companies.
Russian banks and oil companies were among the hardest hit in volatile trading, with shares in Sberbank (SBRCY) — Russia’s largest lender — at one stage losing 57% of their value. Rosneft, in which BP (BP) owns a 19.75% stake, plunged as much as 58%. BP shares dropped 5% in London.
The ruble was trading at 85 to the dollar, down 4%, after earlier hitting a new record low of 89.60. The Russian central bank said it would intervene in the currency market and provide extra liquidity to the banking sector.
The United States, European Union, United Kingdom and other allies announced limited new sanctions on Russia earlier this week after Moscow said it would send troops into two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine. Germany said it was suspending certification of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
US, EU and UK officials have made clear that much tougher measures would follow should Russia invade.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Thursday the European Union is set to unleash “the full packet of sanctions” against Russia, adding that the world must respond resolutely or run the risk of paying an even higher price.
“We woke up in a different world today,” Baerbock told reporters at a news conference in Berlin, adding “we will launch the full package of massive sanctions against Russia.”
The Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia called for Russia to be ejected from SWIFT, the secure messaging services that facilitates payments among 11,000 financial institutions in 200 countries.
“The entire international community must firmly condemn Russia’s aggression and impose the toughest possible sanctions in response to such outrageous acts, including disconnecting Russian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT),” the foreign ministers of the three countries said in a joint statement.
In a statement, SWIFT said it was “a neutral global cooperative” and “any decision to impose sanctions on countries or individual entities rests solely with the competent government bodies and applicable legislators.”
Excluding Russia from SWIFT would cause its economy to shrink by 5%, former finance minister Alexei Kudrin estimated in 2014 — the last time this sanction was considered in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea
Sberbank said it was prepared for any developments and had worked through scenarios to guarantee its customers’ funds, assets and interests were protected, Reuters reported.
— Charles Riley contributed reporting.
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