The Russian central bank reportedly plans to launch a test of the digital ruble involving 15 lenders. Businesses and consumers alike will be given the ability to open a digital wallet using the central bank's platform that they can access through Russian banks.
As a central bank digital currency, or CBDC, the digital ruble would be a centralized token whose value is tied to the country's fiat currency.
The digital ruble pilot comes against the landscape of ongoing economic sanctions against the country due to its war with Ukraine that are making it challenging to conduct business. For example, major corporations like Visa and MasterCard have cut ties with Russia. Meanwhile, its domestic payment system, which is known as Mir, is only accepted by a few countries.
Although the digital ruble's original planned use was for retail purposes, testing is expected to focus on cross-border payments as Russia looks for ways to skirt economic sanctions.
The Russian central bank first signaled its interest in developing a digital currency in 2017, but it was not considered a major priority at the time. However, in 2022, the Russian central bank announced that it would be introducing a digital ruble by 2024, implementing the currency in stages with the support of thorough testing and the development of appropriate infrastructure. The central bank indicated that the digital ruble would coexist with traditional non-cash and cash payment systems so that consumers would have greater flexibility.
An earlier launch of the pilot was delayed, and the bill was amended so the digital ruble could be used by foreigners rather than being limited to residents. The current framework gives the Russian central bank the position of primary operator of the infrastructure as well as responsibility for keeping stored assets secure.
Those who use the digital ruble will not be able to open savings accounts with it as it is intended to serve as a method of making transfers and payments. While individual customers will not be charged for payments or transfers with the CBDC, corporate clients will be charged a 0.3 percent fee.
Bank of Russia First Deputy Governor Olga Skorobogatova said every citizen should have access to digital rubles sometime between 2025 and 2027, with a more specific timeline depending on how prepared individual banks are to adopt the required infrastructure.
Russia will join numerous other countries that are considering introducing a central bank digital currency, or CBDC. Right now, 93 percent of nations have a CBDC project in the works. A survey by the Bank for International Settlements indicated that there may be as many as 15 retail CBDCs and nine wholesale CBDCs in public circulation by the end of this decade.
China and Japan have already launched CBDC pilots of their own. The U.S. is currently still in the research stage, and the Federal Reserve and the Biden administration are said to be considering the implications of launching a digital dollar.
One of the main criticisms of CBDCs is the privacy risks associated with them given the level of visibility that their respective governments would have into the private transactions conducted using the currencies. In Russia, where mass surveillance is a part of daily life for citizens, the head of the central bank has said in the past that while privacy would be considered in CBDC development, the currency would not provide users with "the same level of anonymity that is supported by cash transactions."
The ruble is currently one of the worst-performing currencies in the world as it contends with Western sanctions and growing inflation.
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