Rouble crashes amid Western sanctions over Ukraine assault

Russia's central bank announced that it would not open share trading at the Moscow stock exchange on Monday 'due to the situation that has arisen'
Last Updated 28 February 2022, 12:36 IST

The rouble collapsed against the dollar and the euro on the Moscow Stock Exchange on Monday as the West punished Moscow with harsh new sanctions over the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine.

The financial turmoil came on the first working day after Western allies on Saturday agreed on a new volley of financial sanctions, including removing some Russian banks from the SWIFT bank messaging system, and freezing central bank assets.

The rouble fell sharply at the start of currency trading, reaching 100.96 to the dollar, compared to 83.5 on Wednesday, the day before the invasion of Ukraine, and 113.52 to the euro, compared to 93.5 before the assault.

This fluctuation came after the rouble-based MOEX index increased the upper trading limit.

The rouble later rallied slightly to 98.6 to the dollar and 108.7 to the euro.

Russia's central bank announced that it would not open share trading at the Moscow stock exchange on Monday "due to the situation that has arisen". It said that it would make an announcement about trading for the next day by Tuesday morning.

The Kremlin acknowledged the impact on Monday, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that "the Western sanctions are hard, but our country has the necessary potential to compensate the damage."

President Vladimir Putin was set to meet officials including the central bank chief Elvira Nabiullina and the CEO of Russia's largest lender Sberbank, German Gref, to discuss the economy.

The rouble had already fallen sharply against the main world currencies due to the erupting conflict.

Many Russians queued at ATMs over the weekend, seeking to withdraw rouble savings and exchange them for foreign currency before rates plunged further.

In the second largest city of Saint Petersburg, some 20 customers waiting outside a branch of Raiffeisen Bank Russia said they wanted to withdraw their cash.

"We went through all these cataclysms in 1998, so we have no trust in the authorities or in banks," said Anton Zakharov, 45.

He drew a parallel between the current situation and Russia's financial crisis in August 1998, when the government defaulted on domestic debt and the rouble was devalued.

"It's safer to keep it at home: we've no idea what will happen now," added Svetlana Paramonova, 58.

The Russian central bank on Monday took emergency measures to prop up the economy: hiking the key interest rate to 20 percent from 9.5 percent in order to "support financial and price stability and protect citizens' savings from depreciation". This took the interest rate to a historic high.

The Bank of Russia also banned brokers from selling securities on behalf of foreign clients.

As part of a flurry of measures, the finance ministry announced that Russian resident companies that earn income from exports from Monday will have to sell 80 percent of their foreign currency earnings.

"The ratcheting up of Western sanctions over the weekend has left Russian banks on the edge of crisis," said Capital Economics.

Alexei Vedev, a financial analyst at Moscow's Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, praised the central bank for "acting rationally" to reduce uncertainty.

"The introduction of restrictions by the central bank, the finance ministry and the Moscow stock exchange lowers volatility," he told AFP.

The analyst said that the rouble was currently exchanging at a "hysterical rate" that does not reflect the current high oil price.

He added, however, that the Russian financial system will change due to sanctions, in a way that will "become clear later, when the geopolitical situation becomes clear".

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(Published 28 February 2022, 04:11 IST)

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