Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday “no one could have predicted” Western sanctions would target the country’s central bank, in the first major admission by the Kremlin that Moscow was blindsided by the transatlantic response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
“When the reserves of the Central Bank were frozen, no one would think, out of those who made predictions, what sanctions the West might apply,” Moscow’s top diplomat told students and staff at Moscow State Institute of International Relations, while slamming the West’s move as “thievery.”
“Russia must be made to never again be reliant on supplies from abroad,” he said, but added that Moscow would be “ready to cooperate” with the West in the future “if they want.”
Within days of Putin’s lethal invasion beginning on February 24, the EU, U.S., U.K. and Canada imposed sweeping and coordinated sanctions freezing the Russian central bank’s foreign deposits. China holds the most Russian foreign reserves, though France, Germany and the U.K. together held more than a quarter in 2021, according to data research company Statista.
The move left the central bank effectively unable to access around half of its $630 billion gold and foreign currency reserves to mitigate the impact of other sanctions and — added to other measures such as disconnecting Russian banks from SWIFT — caused a precipitous drop in the value of the ruble.