The financial giants Visa and MasterCard have shown themselves to be on the side of the angels, suspending operations in Russia in light of its invasion of Ukraine. Visa explained in a press release on Saturday: “Effective immediately, Visa will work with its clients and partners within Russia to cease all Visa transactions over the coming days. Once complete, all transactions initiated with Visa cards issued in Russia will no longer work outside the country and any Visa cards issued by financial institutions outside of Russia will no longer work within the Russian Federation.” Also on Saturday, MasterCard announced: “We have decided to suspend our network services in Russia.” Righteous! But as is so often the case, there could be a severe downside for Americans, and particularly American conservatives.
Al Kelly, chairman and chief executive officer of Visa Inc., explained that it was a tough step, but it just had to be done: “We are 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.”
MasterCard likewise struck a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger pose: “For more than a week, the world has watched the shocking and devastating events resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Our colleagues, our customers and our partners have been affected in ways that most of us could not imagine.” It decided to suspend operations in Russia after “constant dialogue with our customers, partners and governments.” MasterCard claimed to have “received perspectives from our employees, in addition to people across the industry, consumers and our shareholders. We have also considered what would be most important to support the continued availability of services, if possible, to impacted people in the region.” And in light of “the unprecedented nature of the current conflict and the uncertain economic environment,” it ended its Russia operations.
What this means in practice is that “cards issued by Russian banks will no longer be supported by the Mastercard network. And any Mastercard issued outside of the country will not work at Russian merchants or ATMs.” Great, but does anyone think Vladimir Putin is putting the expenses of the Russian army in Ukraine on MasterCard or Visa? The suspension of Russian operations doesn’t hurt Putin or the Russian government; it hurts ordinary Russians who have no influence over Putin and had nothing to do with his decision to invade.
This action by Visa and MasterCard is also ominous for American conservatives. Allum Bokhari, who covers Big Tech for Breitbart, reported last July that “progressive activists have launched well-funded campaigns aimed at payment processors, and credit card companies, aimed at cutting the political right off from payment and banking services.” Bokhari also noted that I myself was a victim of this in 2018: “Visa and Mastercard cut off payments to David Horowitz’s Freedom Center. Horowitz later had the service restored, but Islam critic Robert Spencer reported that he too was blacklisted by Mastercard, blaming it on pressure from far-left activists.” Indeed: after a Leftist hate group published an “exposé” about funding of “right-wing” groups, MasterCard cut me off, claiming it had done so because my website featured “illegal content.” That is, content that Leftists don’t like.
Whatever you may think of me and of other people that the Leftist establishment has targeted for destruction, the implications of what is being done are clear. America is at a crossroads today. The choice before us is whether we will continue to exist as a free society, or whether we will become a totalitarian state in which holding the proper opinions is an indispensable prerequisite of being able to function as a citizen at all. Note that Visa’s Al Kelly said his company had decided to take the step to suspend services in Russia because of “the unacceptable events that we have witnessed.” What will Americans who dissent from the Leftist agenda do when the credit card giants tell them that such dissent is “unacceptable” as well?
If MasterCard and Visa offer their services only to those with acceptable political opinions, it isn’t just Russia that will ultimately be affected. At risk is the basic and hard-won principle of equality of access to services. When that goes, our other freedoms will swiftly follow — more swiftly than most Americans realize.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 23 books including many bestsellers, such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), The Truth About Muhammad and The History of Jihad. His latest book is The Critical Qur’an. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.