Thousands of staff, billions of dollars and three decades of complicated relationships. Some of the world’s largest banks are starting to pull back from Russia, but it’s not going to be easy.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. became the first to announce its withdrawal on Thursday, having already moved some Moscow-based staff to Dubai. JPMorgan Chase & Co. followed suit, saying it is actively unwinding its Russia business and currently engaging in limited activities in the country.

Citigroup Inc.’s roughly 3,000 workers in Russia give it by far the largest presence of any major U.S. bank in that country. It’s operating “on a more limited basis given current circumstances and obligations,” according to a statement Wednesday, and is continuing efforts to exit the business that began before the invasion of Ukraine.

Meanwhile Morgan Stanley is considering moving some of its 20-strong Russia-based team to the Gulf state and other financial centers, according to a person familiar with the situation. Deutsche Bank AG is assessing options for its information technology hub in Russia.

Credit Suisse Group AG, one of the first foreign banks to enter Russia in a meaningful way after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is weighing up its 125-person team in Moscow, but has yet to make any decision. In a statement Thursday, Chief Executive Officer Thomas Gottstein said the bank’s board was “deeply saddened” by the war, but stopped short of saying it would withdraw.

The pressure to do more is growing. Giants in other industries including General Electric Co., McDonald’s Corp. and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP have already said they’ll pull the plug. But banks will face a particularly difficult task of extricating themselves from a web of trades, lending agreements, and longstanding banking relationships -- all the while interpreting sanctions that are multiplying almost daily.

“These financial institutions are literally WhatsApping each other about transactions, which are billions upon billions, going, ‘Do we think this is captured?’ ‘Can we close this out?’ ‘We want to actually get rid of it,’ or ‘We want to freeze it,’ or ‘We want to do something else with it,’” Justine Walker, head of global sanctions and risk at ACAMS, the group for anti-financial crime professionals, told British lawmakers this week.

“They are trying to understand their legal basis for doing that, and, if they are trying to withdraw and reduce their exposure, how they can manage that in a way for their own financial stability,” she said.

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Banks such as Deutsche Bank and UBS Group AG bought or formed ventures with local brokers to embed themselves with Russia’s business elite. In 2013, Goldman Sachs signed a three-year deal with the Russian government to help improve its international image and attract more investment.

This week, Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Officer Christian Sewing defended the lender’s continuing Russian presence. “We are often asked why we are not withdrawing completely from Russia,” he said in a memo to staff. “The answer is that this would go against our values. We have clients who cannot exit Russia overnight. And, as far as we can, we will continue to also support them, too, at this difficult time.”

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