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The Russian Central Bank says digital currencies could spell the end of the SWIFT network

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WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

Governments are increasingly using the SWIFT network to enforce sanctions on countries, so it’s no surprise that Russia wants to put an end to SWIFT – and they have a plan.

 

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In a recent interview with Forbes, the first deputy governor of the Bank of Russia, Olga Skorobogatova, spoke about her country’s plans for a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), diving into the possible international implications of a future digital ruble.

 

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The deputy governor gave details of the current development schedule and said a full launch is not expected until at least 2025. She also spoke about the potential of a BRICS common currency, which could undermine the US Dollar as the world’s reserve currency, which members are set to discuss in an upcoming summit.

Although Russia’s CBDC was primarily conceived as a retail tool for domestic payments and transfers, the country has long been interested in cross-border applications to reduce its exposure to the US-led financial system, represented by SWIFT and Western clearinghouses.

Following Putin’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine – and the financial sanctions that followed – Russian banks have found it increasingly difficult to do business with foreign counterparties, as its access to US dollars has been all but cut off so the country has had to resort to alternative currencies, namely Chinese Renminbi, to pay for its energy and other merchandise imports, yet this could change with the introduction of CBDCs.

 

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“The main thing is to have agreements between two or more countries,” Ms. Skorobogatova told Forbes, but “if there are such agreements, then the integration of digital currencies can really replace SWIFT, because payments and information on them will take place in a completely different settlement infrastructure than now.”

However, the introduction of a digital ruble is still distant. The deputy governor said a pilot launch will take place between 2023 and 2024, but this will only involve 13 banks and a limited number of clients and transactions. The trials have been  delayed due to the pending passage of certain laws, but they should start around the end of the month.

Nonetheless, Ms. Skorobogatova says she does not expect a launch before 2025, which means ordinary citizens will probably have to wait a few more years before they are actually able to use their digital rubles.

 

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Lastly, Ms. Skorobogatova spoke about the upcoming BRICS summit, where members will discuss the creation of a single currency, something that Russia first suggested in 2019.

“A common currency for the BRICS countries could be a breakthrough, a significant simplification of settlements between our economies. But this is not easy, it is a long process,” she admitted.

BRICS countries have gradually acquired substantial economic clout, having recently overtaken the G7 countries in global GDP. Their members conduct a great deal of trade between them, so they would likely benefit from a common currency.

 

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The group has grown increasingly unhappy with Western sanctions used as a foreign policy tool, particularly China, which is worried that it could suffer a similar fate to Russia and be cut off from SWIFT in future. The country has been involved in the mBridge project for cross border CBDC to encourage digital Yuan usage for cross border trade and be involved in an alternative international payment infrastructure.

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