digital currency

Bank of Russia to pilot digital ruble with real transactions in April

Bank of Russia is moving ahead with plans to launch a central bank digital currency (CBDC) pilot with consumers being participants for the first time.

Bank of Russia’s First Deputy Governor Olga Skorobogatova said the pilot project will use real transactions with the CBDC and bring several individuals and enterprises on board. This was disclosed in the recently concluded Cybersecurity in Finance forum in Ural, where Skorobogatova confirmed that 13 banks would participate in the initiative.

“I will immediately draw your attention to the fact that the pilot will go on real transactions, real customers, but for a limited number of transactions and for a limited number of clients with 13 banks that have already technically confirmed their readiness,” said Skorobogatova.

The Bank of Russia is eyeing April 1 as a potential launch date for the pilot “with transactions between individuals and payments in trade and service enterprises” for a start. Not all customers of the 13 banks will be allowed to make transactions with the digital ruble, the official said, adding only a selected group of initial users will be allowed to interact with the CBDC.

Aside from a limitation on customers, transaction volume appears to be limited as the Bank of Russia adopts a slow-and-steady approach toward CBDCs. Upon its conclusion of the pilot, the central bank confirmed that it would release a framework to guide the scaling process of the digital ruble ahead of a full-scale launch.

Plans for a digital ruble have been underway since June 2022, and according to the first iteration of the roadmap, Russia targeted 2024 as a tentative launch date. However, things were sped up by the tight economic sanctions imposed on the country since its invasion of Ukraine.

The country’s financial institutions were kicked out of SWIFT, prompting the search for new payment platforms for cross-border transactions. Russia’s digital ruble is widely touted to operate with cross-border functionalities, with its strategic allies rumored to be working on the feature.

Circumnavigating Western sanctions

The earliest inkling that Russia was considering CBDCs to circumnavigate sanctions was back in July 2021 when Skorobogatova confirmed that the country was proceeding with digital ruble development.

“We realized that we need to move very quickly in terms of digital technology and innovation development,” she said. “This also solves the issue of disconnecting from SWIFT because, with such integration, SWIFT will no longer be needed.”

In October, there were widespread reports that the central bank had identified China as a key partner in its attempts to use CBDCs for cross-border payments, and by January 2023, multiple studies had been authorized for the development of a launching strategy for cross-border functionality.

To learn more about central bank digital currencies and some of the design decisions that need to be considered when creating and launching it, read nChain’s CBDC playbook.

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