The Central Bank of Russia releases plans for digitizing national payments by 2023

On April 14, the Central Bank of Russia released a comprehensive strategy for the next three years of payments development in the country.

Prominent among the CBR's strategy is an emphasis on its digital ruble. Staff at the central bank had presented some of these objectives last week. The recent report highlights much broader ambitions.

In addition to repeating previous statements that any potential digital ruble will need to have the "properties of cash and non-cash," the CBR is planning for open APIs that will allow the digital ruble to integrate with any other private payment platform. Initial pilots are scheduled for 2022.

The new report also highlighted the successes of Russia's "Faster Payments System." Launched in 2019, the FPS had more than doubled in both number and the total value of transactions between Q3 and Q4 of 2020, reaching over 67 million transactions worth 459 billion rubles ($6 billion).

Another repeated theme in the CBR's report is "sovereignty." Two critical ways of reading this are the unique situation of Russia's financial system domestically and internationally.

Domestically, Russia is the largest country in the world. East of the Urals, it is also one of the least densely populated and has historically been plagued with limited access to networks, from roads to the internet and, indeed, payments. Consequently, priorities for the national payments system are an integration of all of the Russian Federation.

Internationally, Russia faces ever-widening sanctions from the US and EU. On Thursday, President Biden announced a fresh escalation of sanctions on actors in Russia's tech and industry, as well as the central bank itself. The Russian government has indicated an interest in blockchain as a means of getting around such sanctions in the past. This week's sanctions targeted entities that provided Russian government media operatives with fake KYC documents that those operatives used to access cryptocurrency services. 

Relative to many other central banks, the CBR has shown less concern over KYC when it comes to proposals for its digital currency.

Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Finance last week publicized work on a bill that would effectively mandate that local financial institutions serve clients who have fallen under US sanctions.