Russian CBDC by 2025? What’s happening with the digital ruble

Thursday, 20 Jul 2023

Cointelegraph By David Attlee

Original Article

2025-2027 might still seem far away, but the Central Bank of Russia is preparing its CBDC for mass adoption by then.

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The Central Bank of the Russian Federation’s (CBR) central bank digital currency (CBDC) project has been developing rapidly. The first news about the initiative appeared in 2020, and a regulatory bill was introduced in 2022, which has now passed through its final reading in the parliament’s lower chamber, the Duma.

However, the final rollout of the “digital ruble” among the general public will not happen until 2025-2027, as CBR First Deputy Governor Olga Skorobogatova recently revealed.

The timeline still looks optimistic in the global context. According to a recent PwC report, only about 24 CBDCs may be live by 2030. But for a country actively seeking ways to trade internationally under heavy financial sanctions, such timing may feel relatively slow.

Ups and downs of the digital ruble

In 2017, the CBR announced its interest in exploring the idea of a digital currency. At the time, Skorobogatova emphasized that developing a CBDC was a priority and that the CBR would investigate soon. However, the bank’s governor, Elvira Nabiullina, didn’t consider it a top priority and regarded it as something to be explored in the medium to long term.

In 2022, the CBR revealed it planned to introduce the digital ruble across all banks in the country by 2024. It explained that the implementation would be done in stages and involve extensive testing and infrastructure development. According to the central bank, the digital ruble would coexist with traditional cash and non-cash payment systems, giving consumers more flexibility in their transactions.

CBR governor Elvira Nabiullina in an interview. Source: MarketWatch.

In February 2023, Skorobogatova made a public announcement regarding the first consumer pilot of the digital ruble, scheduled to commence on April 1, 2023. The trial would include the participation of 13 local banks, numerous merchants and real consumers.

That same month, Gazprombank, a banking subsidiary of state-owned energy corporation Gazprom and one of the pilot’s participants, publicly proposed giving banks more time before implementing the CBDC.

Indeed, the bank’s concerns were understandable, as one report from auditing firm McKinsey estimates that Russian banks could lose $3.5 billion in commissions and fees in five years to a CBDC.

The pilot’s launch was eventually delayed along with the passage of the digital ruble bill in the Duma.

The amended bill establishes key legal definitions such as “platform,” “participants” and “users,” while also outlining general guidelines for the CBDC ecosystem.

Under the current framework, the CBR assumes the role of the primary operator for the digital ruble infrastructure and holds the responsibility for safeguarding all the stored assets.

As the primary objective of the CBDC is to serve as a payment and transfer method, users of the digital ruble will not have the option to open savings accounts. Individual customers will enjoy free payments and transfers, while corporate clients will incur a fee of 0.3% of the payment amount.

Waiting for 2025?

On July 6, CBR’s Skorobogatova said every citizen would be able to open the wallet, receive digital rubles and use them “on the horizon of 2025-27.”

Skorobogatova specified that a lot depends on banks and their readiness to adopt the necessary infrastructure, as private banks would facilitate digital ruble transactions within their standard apps, with the whole process of the central bank’s mediation more or less invisible to the final customer. Skorobogatova emphasized, “The digital ruble is not a cryptocurrency or a stablecoin, where there’s often no emitter or you don’t know one.”

Aleksandr Podobnykh, head of the Saint Petersburg branch of the Association of Chief Information Security Officers — a cybersecurity consulting firm involved in CBDC legislation — believes the 2025-2027 deadline is realistic and that test infrastructure is ready to pilot the digital ruble:

“Now about 30 legal entities are involved in testing — these are banks, retail and individual entrepreneurs. Until 2027, up to 1,500 subjects (including individuals) will take part. Upon completion of the testing, recommendations for scaling will be developed.”

Podobnykh also mentioned the upcoming updates to Federal Law 115, regulating Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing procedures. The proposed amendments would take into account new forms of exchange to help financial monitoring agencies analyze CBDC transactions.

Elena Klyuchareva, senior associate at Russian law firm KKMP, also sees no anomalies in the 2025-2027 deadline.

“The delay in digital ruble implementation may be connected mainly to technical aspects,” she told Cointelegraph. “The infrastructure envisaged by the CBR concept is complicated and shall facilitate not only online but also offline transactions and ensure a high level of cybersecurity.” And, Klyuchareva added, such infrastructure will be based mainly on domestic software solutions due to international sanctions:

“According to prior comments of the CBR, they do not want to intentionally speed up the process but wish to ensure that the digital ruble platform functions properly and is safe and secure.”

The decision to postpone the implementation of the Russian digital currency shouldn’t be seen as a failure of the project, but as an attempt to develop a stable, well-balanced solution, Klyuchareva concluded.

Given that only four CBDCs are currently in circulation, Russia will probably be among the first adopters — even if the digital ruble doesn’t launch until 2027.


Cointelegraph By David Attlee

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