Moscow braces for market meltdown Monday as new sanctions hit | Rouble

Moscow is bracing for economic panic as markets open on Monday morning, with the value of the rouble expected to plummet after the US and European Union announced unprecedented sanctions over the weekend.

Those measures targeted the Russian central bank, which has intervened to prop up the value of the rouble following Vladimir Putin’s order to invade Ukraine. They also marked the first time Russian banks have been excluded from the Swift international payments system.

Top Russian banks such as Sberbank and VTB Bank have assured their customers that they’ll be able to access their rouble deposits and make exchanges into foreign currencies like dollars and euros.

But the economic turbulence will mark a key moment when the gravity of the crisis in Ukraine hits home for many ordinary Russians.

“It will be something we have not seen before,” said Sergei Guriev, economics professor at France’s Sciences Po and former European Bank for Reconstruction and Development chief economist.

Videos circulated on social media of long lines at some Russian ATMs on Sunday morning, although the rush for currency is expected to begin in earnest on Monday as markets open.

There are already signs that the value of the rouble has tumbled. By Sunday evening, Russia’s Tinkoff Bank was buying dollars for 89 rubles and selling them for 154 roubles, nearly double the price just three weeks ago.

The sanctioning of Russia’s central bank, which experts called “unprecedented”, could halt or limit interventions to prop up the value of the currency, making it harder to insulate Russians from the economic backlash of the invasion.

“Sanctioning the central bank is unprecedented,” said Maria Shagina of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs and the Geneva International Sanctions Network. “I think for one of the largest economies in the world – the size matters here. Previously it was only Iran, Venezuela, Syria that were under a maximum pressure campaign.”

Some details of the sanctions remain unclear, and it is possible that western governments will make exceptions for oil and gas payments.

But the sanctions on the Russian central bank, which could see a significant portion of its $630bn (£470bn) in reserves frozen in G7 countries, mark a quantum leap in the west’s sanctions campaign over the Russian invasion into Ukraine.

“There’s a psychological and reputational effect because now everyone just doesn’t want to deal with Russia in general,” said Shagina.

Elina Ribakova, deputy chief economist of the Institute of International Finance, predicted earlier this week that sanctions on the central bank would have drastic consequences for Russia.

“Apart from creating a domestic financial and economic crisis in Russia (massive dollarisation and destruction of the domestic financial sector), it will also make trade with Russia so difficult that it will be nearly impossible for some,” she wrote. “Energy and oil prices massively impacted.”

International financial institutions and other organizations have also started to reduce offices or cut ties with Russia due to the sanctions and reputational risk.

That has impacted industries far from the banking sector.

An events planner for a Moscow entertainment firm said simply: “It’s dead.”

“Everything is being cancelled,” the person said, asking not to be named because their firm organized government events. “I’ve basically written off all of my events ordered by international clients. Those that haven’t been canceled yet will be soon. All I can count on are government contracts.”

'A watershed moment': EU shuts down airspace to Russia and finances weapons for Ukraine – video
‘A watershed moment’: EU shuts down airspace to Russia and finances weapons for Ukraine – video

Companies that sell popular goods also appear to be limiting their exposure to the Russian market. Automakers including Mercedes Benz, Audi, General Motors and Jaguar Land Rover have reportedly halted shipments of goods to Russia.

Shops selling iPhones and other products have told Russian reporters they were not receiving further shipments, although the reason was not immediately clear.

On Sunday morning, things still appeared calm in Moscow. Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, had taken the unusual step of keeping its branches open over the weekend. But several had no queues, with cashpoints stocked with roubles and ample supplies of dollars for sale for around 100 roubles.

By Sunday evening, Russian state TV hosts were exhorting their listeners to hold the line despite the tough economic times ahead, describing a period of economic isolation and autarky that recalls some of the world’s most trouble pariah states.

“I know some of you are finding this tough,” said Vladimir Solovyov, a Russian TV host who was sanctioned last week. “We’ll overcome it all, we’ll endure it all. We’ll rebuild our own economy from scratch, an independent banking system, manufacturing and industry. We’ll rely on ourselves.”

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