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Russia Gets Ready for Life Without Visa and MasterCard

SMP Bank in Moscow
SMP Bank in MoscowPhotograph by Anton Belitsky/Corbis

Is Russia ready to cut up its plastic? After Visa and MasterCard stopped processing some Russian transactions in response to U.S. sanctions, Moscow says it could launch a homegrown payment system that could be ready in as little as six months, according to German Gref, chief of the country’s largest bank, Sberbank.

Hard as it may be for Americans to imagine life without Visa and MasterCard, jettisoning them wouldn’t be all that difficult. Moscow has been preparing for the past few years to issue an electronic payment card that citizens could use for transactions with the government, such as tax and pension payments. Expanding that to include private purchases wouldn’t be hard, says Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner Research: “If the banks are all on board, they can use the existing [card-reading] equipment in the retail stores. They’ve been thinking about it for so long, it’s just a matter of flipping the switch.”