Ruble’s share in Russian foreign trade payments grows sharply

In 2023, the ruble became the main currency used in settlements with countries in Europe and Asia; American buyers mainly paid for Russian exports in dollars and euros. Friendly countries’ currencies came out on top in Russian payments for imports.

In 2023, the share of the ruble in international payments for Russian goods and services was at the highest level in the last five years in all regions of the world. With Asian countries, the use of the ruble in Russia’s payments for imports fell below the 2019 level, as friendly currencies, primarily the yuan, came to the fore. Russia uses these currencies to pay for a little more than half of all goods and services supplied from Asia, according to the Central Bank’s statistics.

For the first time after resuming the publication of these statistics last summer, the regulator has published the annual share of currency use by geography, having previously released only monthly data. The report includes 2019-2023 statistics by region: Asia, America, Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and Oceania. It details the proportions of the ruble, the currencies of unfriendly countries (primarily the dollar and the euro) and other currencies, in particular those of friendly countries – the yuan, rupees, dirhams, etc. – used in foreign trade transactions. Before the Western sanctions were imposed in 2022, the Central Bank published currency use statistics by country, not by region.

According to the Federal Customs Service, Asia was the largest destination for Russian exports as well as the main source of Russian imports in 2023, accounting for $306.6 bln of the total exports of $425.1 bln, and for $187.5 bln worth of imports of the total of $285.1 bln. Europe remained Russia’s second largest partner, including in trade with non-EU countries such as Belarus. In third place were countries on the American continent, which accounted for $12.2 bln of Russian exports and $15 bln of imports last year.

A greater share of foreign trade payments settled in rubles significantly bolsters the Russian economy’s resistance to sanctions, but reduces the flexibility of trade, making it more difficult to find counterparties, economist Sergei Khestanov, Associate Professor at RANEPA, explains.

“As the sanctions pressure grows, shifting towards counterparties that are more resistant to sanctions becomes a priority,” the expert notes. “A similar situation developed in the Soviet era: few firms from developed countries dared to engage with the USSR, but those that did had a bigger profit margin.”

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