Moscow isn't ruling out the West restricting the use of Visa and MasterCard payment systems in Russia, Presidential Spokesman Dmitri Peskov has said.
“This is a rather unpredictable process, therefore in the framework of this process, taking account of such unfriendly and sometimes even hostile forms of behaviour against us, nothing can be ruled out,” Peskov said, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, when asked about the prospects of the popular payment systems being shut down inside the country.
The best way for Moscow to hedge such risk was to create alternative payment systems and other services to support financial activities, “that is, systems to strengthen sovereignty in all sectors of the economy, banking,” Peskov added.
“This process is already taking place,” the spokesman suggested, referring to Mir, the Russian-made payment system devised in 2014 and launched in 2015 as tension with the West escalated.
“We see now that this system is already rather strong. Admittedly, it does not have international circulation yet, but still, countries have emerged where the system can be used. And no one has any doubts that this system will eventually spread globally,” Peskov said.
The Mir (which in Russian literally means "Peace" or "World") payment system has gradually gained traction since its 2015. By 2019, Russian banks had issued nearly 60 million Mir debit and credit cards, accounting for over 20 percent of all payment cards issued in Russia. The cards are issued to pensioners, welfare recipients and other categories of citizens who receive payments from the state. Mir cards can be used across Russia and much of the former Soviet space, and at some banks in Vietnam, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.
However, they are not tied to PayPal or WebMoney, and cannot be used to pay for many online services and stores based in Western countries. These and other factors have accounted for Visa and MasterCard’s continued popularity, with Visa alone continuing to account for about 40 percent of the Russian bank card market. Any disruption in service would therefore undoubtedly have at least some short-term negative impact.
Russia is no stranger to problems with Visa and MasterCard. In 2014, at the height of the Ukraine crisis, a number of Russian banks got cut off by the US-based services due to sanctions.
Senior Russian officials have expanded discussions of alternate payment systems and the use of currencies besides the dollar for trade amid concerns that the Biden administration may be preparing a new round of sanctions against Moscow.
The Biden administration has threatened new restrictions against Russia over a range of pretexts, most recently over “Russia’s ongoing aggression” against Ukraine, where observers have reported a worrying uptick in NATO military activity in recent weeks. On Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Russia would face “consequences” if it acted “aggressively” against Kiev. Moscow has dismissed claims that it is responsible for the situation in Ukraine, and stressed that the Ukrainian government and its Western sponsors would be held responsible for any military escalation.