Visa, Mastercard Abruptly Suspend All Operations in Russia

Visa, Mastercard Abruptly Suspend All Operations in Russia
Logos for Mastercard and Visa in a file image. (Mark Lennihan/AP Photo)
Zachary Stieber

Two of the biggest payment processing firms in the world on March 5 announced they are suspending operations in Russia.

Mastercard and Visa said Russian banks would be cut off from their networks and their cards wouldn’t work at Russian merchants or ATMs.

“We don’t take this decision lightly. Mastercard has operated in Russia for more than 25 years. We have nearly 200 colleagues there who make this company so critical to many stakeholders. As we take these steps, we will continue to focus on their safety and well-being, including continuing to provide pay and benefits,” Mastercard said in a statement.

“When it is appropriate, and if it is permissible under the law, we will use their passion and creativity to work to restore operations.”

Mastercard said it heard from employees, consumers, and shareholders before deciding on the course of action.

Al Kelly, chairman and chief executive officer of Visa, said in a statement that company executives were “compelled to act following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and the unacceptable events that we have witnessed.”

“We regret the impact this will have on our valued colleagues, and on the clients, partners, merchants, and cardholders we serve in Russia. This war and the ongoing threat to peace and stability demand we respond in line with our values,” he said.

Russia has dealt with backlash from countries and businesses since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Mastercard said its cards would stop working immediately, while Visa indicated the action could take multiple days. Once complete, no Visa card issued outside Russia will work in the country and no Visa card issued there will work anywhere else, the company said.

The moves by the U.S.-based companies follow just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during a virtual meeting with hundreds of members of the U.S. Congress, asked them to push for Mastercard and Visa to stop processing payments in Russia as a way to apply pressure on Putin.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said after the announcements that other major card companies should follow suit and that Belarus, which has helped Russia in the war, should also be cut off.

Rep. Bill Keating (D-Mass.) called the moves “an important step to demonstrate to Vladimir Putin our unwavering support for Ukraine.”

Some lawmakers acknowledged that many Russians would be affected, even those who don’t support the war, but alleged that taking action was necessary.

“Even though Putin’s our enemy, the Russian people need to feel this for our response to be effective,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a video after meeting with Zelensky.

Putin didn’t appear to immediately respond to the moves. The Central Bank of Russia said that Visa and Mastercard cards issued by Russian banks would still be operational within Russia, according to state-run media.

“All cards of international payment systems Visa and Mastercard, issued by Russian banks, will function as normal on the territory of Russia until their expiry,” the bank said in a statement.

“Operations inside the country are processed by the National Payment Cards System and are not affected by sanctions. The money of clients, deposited on accounts linked to such cards, are fully safe and accessible.”