Russia plans to use digital rouble in settlements with China, says lawmaker

FILE PHOTO: St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF)

MOSCOW (Reuters) - After launching a digital rouble early next year, Russia plans to use the currency in mutual settlements with China as it seeks to reduce Washington's global financial hegemony, a senior Russian lawmaker said on Monday.

Russia, like many countries, has been developing digital money over the last couple of years to modernise its financial system, speed up payments and head off the threat of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin gaining influence.

The central bank is already conducting digital rouble tests with banks at a time when sanctions against Moscow over its actions in Ukraine have slashed Russia's access to large swathes of global financial market infrastructure.

With that in mind, Russia is on the hunt for alternative means of carrying out transactions, said Anatoly Aksakov, head of the financial committee in Russia's lower house of parliament, in an interview with Russia's parliamentary newspaper.

"The topic of digital financial assets, the digital rouble and cryptocurrencies is currently intensifying in society, as Western countries are imposing sanctions and creating problems for bank transfers, including in international settlements," Aksakov said. He added that the digital direction is key because financial flows can bypass systems controlled by unfriendly countries.

The central bank and government have been at loggerheads all year over cryptocurrency regulation. Aksakov said he hoped legislation would emerge this year.

He added the next step for the digital rouble would be to launch it for mutual settlements with China, which has already tested its digital yuan.

"If we launch this, then other countries will begin to actively use it going forward, and America's control over the global financial system will effectively end," said Aksakov.

As Western nations have shunned Russia, cooperation with Beijing has become increasingly important for Moscow. The two nations have increased trade with one another and Russian companies have started issuing debt in yuan.

Some central bank experts have also suggested the new technologies mean countries would be able to deal more directly with each other, making them less dependent on Western-dominated payment channels such as the SWIFT system, to which many Russian banks have lost access due to sanctions.

(Reporting by Elena Fabrichnaya; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Josie Kao)