Moscow, Dec 15: Russian banks on Tuesday began to issue the first national payment card as an alternative to Visa and Mastercard, an idea championed after Western sanctions left some consumers unable to make card purchases.
The "Mir" card -- a name that could be translated both as "peace" and "world" -- was issued by a string of banks, among them Gazprombank, Rossiya bank and others blacklisted by the West, following Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year.
The emission and distribution of the card mark a "most important stage in ensuring the country's financial sovereignty," said a statement by the National System of Payment Cards (NSPK), an entity created by the Russian Central Bank last July in a bid to reduce dependance on the West.
A total of 35 banks are participating in the payment system, and seven have issued the card in the pilot programme, the Russian central bank said, publishing a picture of the blue and green-coloured cards. Bank Rossiya and its affiliated banks were blacklisted last March after Crimea's annexation.
The US Treasury described Rossiya as a "personal bank" for Russian senior officials. In July, sanctions also hit Gazprombank, one of Russia's largest. As a result the banks' customers were barred from using Visa and Mastercard credit cards.
Putin said at the time that the popular US-based payment systems Visa and Mastercard are "susceptible to very strong political influence and immediately bend under pressure."
Bank Rossiya's chairman Andrei Khorobrov called the launch of the new card "an event of historic significance" which ensures "autonomy, security and protection of Russian cards from external factors."