DAVOS, Switzerland — The head of a leading Kremlin-owned bank warned on Friday that further banking sanctions would lead Russia and the U.S. to the "brink of war."
Andrei Kostin, the head of VTB, reacted angrily when asked what the consequences would be if Russia were excluded from the Swift banking system, a secure means of moving money across borders.
If it were to happen, Kostin told a session on the Russian economy at the World Economic Forum in Davos, "ambassadors can leave capitals. It means Russia and America might have no relationship after that."
"If there is no banking relationship, it means the countries are on the verge of war, or definitely in the cold war," he said in English, growing increasingly red in the face. "It will be a very dangerous situation."
He said that if Russia were excluded from the Swift system, it would make the U.S.–Russia relationship akin to the U.S.–Iran one. He made the comments after noting that Russia had recently created its own alternative to Swift.
The U.S. and EU have imposed numerous sanctions on Russia, including against VTB. (Kostin is not on the sanctions list, and recently spoke to the Wall Street Journal about vacationing in Aspen, Colorado.)
Igor Shuvalov, a deputy prime minister and the head of Russia's delegation to Davos, issued a stern warning to those who would imagine Russia without President Vladimir Putin.
"I support my president 100%," Shuvalov said. "When people ask that, they don't understand the Russian character, they don't know Russian history."
"If we think someone from the outside wants to change our leader, to go against our will ... we will be united like never before."
He brushed off questions about Ukraine and warned the West that it must treat Russia like an equal partner rather than having the country "sit in the corner." If it failed to treat Russia equally, Shuvalov warned, Ukraine "will be a huge wound for the next 10 years."
Both Kostin and Shuvalov lamented the current economic situation, which has seen Russia burn through its reserves as the ruble plummets. The ruble has lost almost 50% of its value in the past few months and Russia is facing recession following years of oil-fueled growth.
"There is nothing good in the current situation," Shuvalov said. "It's very difficult. I think it will get worse."
He said the key now was to "teach people — from state corporations to citizens — to live differently."