Russia has set ambitious plans to launch a central bank digital currency (CBDC), aiming to get the digital ruble into circulation by 2025. But experts have serious doubts about whether Russia can feasibly meet this accelerated timeline given the major hurdles involved.
Russia's Central Bank Driving Digital Ruble Efforts
In 2020, Russia's central bank began seriously exploring a digital currency. Recent progress suggests the digital ruble could arrive sooner rather than later.
The Bank of Russia intends to run initial digital ruble pilot programs in 2023 involving internal bank settlements. If these small-scale trials succeed, Russia aims to expand testing in 2024 before a full nationwide launch of the digital ruble in 2025.
Motivations Behind Expedited Rollout
Russia appears determined to lead the way on CBDCs globally. But what factors are driving the rushed schedule for the digital ruble rollout?
Major motivations include:
- Reducing dependence on foreign currencies amid punishing financial sanctions
- Accelerating development to keep pace with China's progress on the digital yuan
- Increasing oversight of citizen payments and transactions
- Projecting an image of technological advancement and power
The Bank of Russia views the digital ruble as a strategic priority and wants to establish Russia as a leader in central bank digital currencies. But this ambition is clashing with the reality of just how complex and challenging it is to build a CBDC from the ground up.
Meeting 2025 Target Appears Highly Doubtful
While Russia's eagerness for a digital currency is clear, experts have serious doubts about the feasibility of meeting the 2025 target launch date.
Developing the technical infrastructure and digital ecosystem for a retail CBDC presents monumental challenges. Ensuring liquidity, implementing compliant anti-money laundering checks, building user-friendly interfaces, and integrating with legacy banking systems are just some of the hurdles.
Equally doubtful is whether the Bank of Russia can drive mass adoption of a digital ruble in just two years. Winning trust in a new form of digital money requires extensive promotion and public education.
The coming years will determine if the digital ruble can leap from concept to full live deployment on such an accelerated timeline. But the odds seem stacked against Russia given the complexity of delivering a new national digital currency.
Ongoing Legislative Efforts
Earlier this year, the Russian parliament passed a bill laying the legal groundwork for the digital ruble. A pilot was set to commence in April 2023, but was then delayed along with passage of the legislation.
Some experts recommend taking a slower, more measured approach. Gazprombank has proposed delaying the CBDC rollout to avoid disruptions, warning that Russia's banks could lose up to $3.5 billion in revenue to the digital ruble.
Uncertainty Around Digital Ruble Adoption
Perhaps the biggest question is whether a digital ruble would gain adoption and usage in just two years' time. Entrenched habits around using cash and cards present high barriers. And Russia being disconnected from global payment systems like SWIFT poses additional challenges.
According to recent research, only about 24 CBDCs may go live globally by 2030. Yet Russia aims to be among the very first.
For context, China has been developing its digital yuan since 2014 and is taking a slow, steady approach. The odds of Russia out-pacing China on CBDC development seem slim given the huge technical and design complexities involved.
Russia's drive to launch a digital ruble as soon as 2025 reflects the country's ambitions to be a leader in digital currencies. However, the accelerated timeline appears highly unrealistic considering the mammoth challenges still ahead.
While the motivations are clear, an on-time launch in 2025 seems doubtful unless the Bank of Russia significantly progresses the digital ruble's design and infrastructure in the next two years. But more likely, Russia will continue working in the coming years to translate the digital ruble from concept to reality.
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