MasterCard, Visa Win Back Crimea Payments Market

Once transaction processing for Visa and MasterCard has been transferred to the new Russian National Payment Card System in April, the cards will again function in Crimea, a Russian government official said on Friday (Feb. 6).

Anatoly Aksakov, deputy head of the financial committee of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Federation's legislature, told a press conference in the Crimean capital Simferopol that the unified Russian transaction processing system would begin operating in April, according to an Interfax news service report in Russia Beyond the Headlines.

"All transactions will be processed by our center," Aksakov said. "America won't even see it and will not be able to block anything. Russian bank cards, Ukrainian, German, American, Japanese -- any [cards], there will be no problem with that."

Visa and MasterCard officially suspended services to Crimean banks in December 2014, after President Barack Obama issued an executive order banning financial transactions by American companies in Crimea after Feb. 1, 2015. The restrictions were part of a series of sanctions imposed after Russia reunified with Crimea in March 2014.

In response, the Russian government announced it would launch its own national payments network, and threatened Visa and MasterCard with requirements for huge "security deposits" if they did not move their transactions to the new system. Both companies said during their Q4 2014 earnings calls that they are working on that transition.

On Friday, Aksakov said Crimean Visa and MasterCard holders will be able to make transactions and withdraw money from their accounts as long as they are inside Russia, once the new National Payment Card System goes live.

Currently, Crimean residents can only use the cards to make withdrawals in the branches of the banks that issued those cards. In the case of Visa and MasterCard cards issued by Sberbank and other large Russian banks that have no offices in Crimea, cardholders must leave Crimea in order to make withdrawals, according to Interfax.



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