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Russian Central Bank Readies ‘Real-world’ CBDC Pilot – Digital Ruble Launch Imminent?

Tim Alper
Last updated: | 2 min read
A Russian 1 ruble coin rests on an electrical circuit board.
Source: Oleg/Adobe

The Russian Central Bank could begin “real-world” tests on the digital ruble next month after parliament approved a key piece of CBDC legislation.

Per Interfax, the State Duma voted in favor of adopting the bill at a third reading this week.

This means the main clauses of the bill are set to pass into national law on August 1, 2023.

At the end of March, the Central Bank announced that it was ready to conduct a pilot with “real” digital ruble tokens.

The bank has struck partnerships with 13 commercial banks, and had hoped to begin testing in April, but was forced to delay the tests due to the “lack of a necessary legal framework.”

The Central Bank has been attempting to fast-track its CBDC due in part to the US-led sanctions imposed on the nation following the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

Sanctions have effectively frozen Russia out of dollar-powered international trade.

This has led Moscow-based firms to conduct trade deals in other currencies like the Chinese yuan, as well as cryptoassets.

Russian citizens have also been expressing an interest in opening yuan accounts, amassing crypto, and could also turn to China’s digital yuan.

But the bank bitterly opposes the use of crypto in the trade sector, even if it appears to be willing to allow firms to use “private cryptocurrencies” for the time being.

Instead, it favors solutions including interoperable CBDCs, gold-backed stablecoins, and a much-vaunted BRICS-area digital asset.

The Central Bank has been working on its CBDC for some time, but now wants to enter “real-world” testing.

To clear the path for this, it created a bill that legislates for the “creation of a platform” for the CBDC in December 2022.

The terms of the bill state that the bank has the right to bar individual commercial banks from transacting with its CBDC at its own discretion.

The bill also allows the bank to name a “circle of users” for the digital ruble platform, and set transactions and threshold amounts.

It further outlaws the accumulation of interest and the opening of joint wallets.

Olga Skorobogatova, the bank’s First Deputy Governor, has previously spoken of the Central Bank’s intentions to launch “the first real operations” with the digital ruble “in July-August” this year.

Skorobogatova also talked up the idea of using CBDCs in “regions” that transcend national boundaries.

She called the “idea” of cross-border CBDCs “fantastic” and said the bank had “discussed a lot.”

However, she conceded:

“I don’t know if we will see a [cross-border CBDC] in the near future.”

Russian Central Bank to Push Ahead with CBDC Tests – What Next for Moscow?

Skorobogatova’s comments come days after Elvira Nabiullina, the crypto-skeptic Russian Central Bank Governor, said that the “idea of ​​creating a single currency for the BRICS alliance “deserves attention.”

But, ExpertNW reported, Nabiullina warned that a BRICS token would “be quite difficult to implement.”

A Central Bank data center on the banks of a river in Moscow, Russia.
A Central Bank data center in Moscow, Russia. (Source: Dzasohovich/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Nabiullina said:

“A supranational currency […] would require the consent of many parties. It is not an easy project at all. Therefore, we are still working and concentrating our efforts on the development of bilateral settlements using national currencies. We are also developing the infrastructure that connects our payment systems.”