Russia steps up expansion of Mir bank card after additional US sanctions

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Russia’s Central Bank pledged on Friday to continue increasing the number of countries accepting Mir bank cards after new US sanctions targeting individuals and entities accused of helping Moscow avoid financial sanctions.

The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on the chief executive of the National Bank of Russia (NSPK) Card Payment System, which runs the Mir system, saying he seeks to hold the Russian government responsible for its February 24 invasion and ongoing war against Ukraine.

“Russia scrambled to find new ways to process payments and conduct transactions,” the US Treasury said. “Directly and indirectly, the Russian financial technocrats supported the Kremlin’s unjustified war.”

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The importance of Mir cards for Russians has risen significantly this year after US payments companies Visa Inc and Mastercard Inc suspended their operations in Russia and their cards issued in Russia stopped operating abroad.

Cuba, South Korea, Turkey, Vietnam and a handful of former Soviet republics accept mir, which means “peace” and “world” in Russian, while other countries such as Iran intend to follow suit soon.

The central bank said that Mir cards and other NSPK services will continue to operate as usual in Russia.

The Bank of Russia, pictured here in Moscow, Russia, on March 29, 2021, expanded its Mir bank card to include former Soviet republics such as Cuba, Turkey and South Korea.
(Reuters/Maxim Shemetov)

“Foreign partners themselves are making decisions about opening their infrastructure to accept Mir cards,” the central bank said. At the same time, we intend to continue the dialogue on expanding the geography of acceptance of the Mir card.

The US Treasury said it blacklisted 22 individuals, including four financial executives whose actions could directly or indirectly support the Russian war effort by helping it evade financial sanctions imposed on Russia after the invasion.

One of these four was named Vladimir Komlev, head of the NSPK.

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“Russia established its state-run card payment system in 2014 out of fear of US and European sanctions,” the Treasury said.

“Through his role, Komlev has promoted the Mir network in other countries, which could eventually help Russia circumvent international sanctions.”

The NSPK did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

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Moscow says what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine was necessary to prevent its neighbor from being used as a platform for Western aggression and to defend Russian speakers. Kyiv and its Western allies reject these arguments as unfounded excuses for an aggressive imperial-style war.

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