As the invasion of Ukraine intensifies, world leaders have been exploring ways to sanction Russia.

One option being considered by some, is banning Russia from the SWIFT global payments system.

As it stands, the European Union and the United States have decided not to cut Russia off.

But world leaders have said they could revisit the issue if the situation escalates further.

We've been exploring what the SWIFT system is, and what could happen if Russia is banned.

What is SWIFT?

SWIFT stands for the 'Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications'.

It is a messaging system used by almost all financial institutions across the world.

Banks use the system to send and receive money transfer orders or information.

It was developed in the 1970s and is a cornerstone of the international payments system, as it allows banks to communicate securely.

SWIFT is based in Belgium and is overseen by central banks in the United States, Japan and Europe.

What would banning Russia from SWIFT mean?

Banning Russia from the SWIFT system is seen as one of the most severe measures world leaders could take against Russia.

It would hugely impact its ability to easily carry out international financial transactions.

It would force banks, importers and exporters to find new ways to share details of payments.

Among other things, the system allows Russian energy companies to easily get paid for selling their oil or gas across the world.

If they are cut off, it will not only have a massive impact on Russia, but also the countries that do a lot of trade with Russia - like Germany.

Why are some countries against banning Russia from SWIFT?

It is mostly the countries that are highly dependent on Russia for energy, wheat and other commodities that are against the ban.

For example, Germany which is a key trading partner of Russia, has said it is opposed to cutting off Russia's access to the system at this point.

But German Chancellor Olaf Scholz suggested such a step could still follow at a later stage.

Germany relies on Russia for around 70% of its gas imports.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of the Baltic states, once ruled from Moscow but now members of NATO and the EU, want to stop Russia's access to SWIFT.

Here at home, Minister for European Affairs Thomas Byrne said Ireland would support removing Russia from the SWIFT network.

While Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney today said a third set of EU sanctions against Russia - that includes the SWIFT banking system - "may well be agreed in the coming days".

Has a country ever been cut off before?

In 2012, SWIFT disconnected Iranian banks as international sanctions tightened against Tehran over its nuclear programme.

Iran lost half its oil export revenue and 30% of its foreign trade.

Calls to cut Russia's SWIFT access were mooted in 2014 when Moscow annexed Crimea, prompting Moscow to develop an alternative messaging system, known as SPFS.

However, SPFS has struggled to establish itself in international transactions - with no other system in the world rivaling that of SWIFT.