Russians to gain access to digital ruble next month

abdelaziz Fathi

Russia took a major leap towards the implementation of its central bank digital currency (CBDC) after President Vladimir Putin officially signed the digital ruble bill into law as the nation fast-tracks plans to circumvent Western sanctions.

The legislation is scheduled to come into effect on August 1, 2023, with almost all regulations ready for enforcement.

This digital ruble, a concept that the Bank of Russia has been carefully considering for some time, will be employed for payments alongside other existing methods, as outlined in the amended Russia’s Civil Code. Once implemented, the coin will become the third form of money alongside physical cash and non-cash rubles. However, Russian citizens will not be obliged to transact with the CBDC, as the use of the digital ruble will be entirely voluntary, granting them the freedom to decide whether to adopt it or not.

The newly passed law includes amendments to various Russian federal rules concerning bankruptcy and inheritance, which are set to take effect from August 2024. After completing its third and final hearing on July 11, the bill had been eagerly awaiting the president’s signature to be enacted into law.

The digital ruble project has been in the works since 2020, marked by the publication of the central bank’s first analytical report on the subject. Subsequently, the regulator updated the report to incorporate feedback from Russian banks and other participants in the financial market. The testing phase of the system was announced in February 2022, shortly before Russia invades in Ukraine.

The approved legislation grants the Russian central bank the authority to initiate the first CBDC pilot involving real consumers starting from August. Initially, the government had planned to conduct trials in April, collaborating with 13 local banks, including major institutions like Sberbank.

As per the newly signed law, the central bank of Russia will serve as the primary operator of the digital ruble infrastructure and will be responsible for safeguarding all the stored assets. The digital ruble is primarily designed to function as a means of payment and money transfer, excluding investment purposes.

Like other regulators, the Bank of Russia will restrict the amount of CBDC available to limit the flight of commercial bank deposits to the digital version. Instead, it intends to roll out the digital ruble gradually and believes that the underlying demand will depend on ease of use, transaction costs, and the ability to convert the funds.

To avoid a significant reduction in banking system’s liquidity, the central bank said the interest on deposit will remain attractive to consumers compared to the non-interest-bearing digital ruble. Following the first pilot stage, Bank of Russia would indicate the number of general customers that would be able to participate and also stands ready to introduce limits on the amounts of digital rubles that a wallet can hold.

The deputy governor floated the idea of cross-border integration with the digital yuan and the central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) of other friendly countries.

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