The Mir cards issued by the Russian central bank’s National Card Payment System (NSPK) became an alternative for Russian travellers in March after Visa and MasterCard shut off their Russian networks over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against NSPK Chief Executive Vladimir Komlev on September 15. The Financial Times daily reported that Washington is pressuring Turkey as well as the countries of the South Caucasus, Central Asia and the Persian Gulf to block the Russian payment system on their territory.
Two Turkish banks suspended use of Mir a few days later. Uzbekistan’s national UZCARD system followed suit on Friday.
It emerged that at least several of the two dozen banks operating in Armenia have also halted use of the Russian cards. None of them agreed to comment on their decision.
The development will first and foremost affect Russian tourists visiting Armenia as well as many of the thousands of Russians who have relocated to the country since the start of the war in Ukraine on February 24.
One of those migrants, journalist Artur Astafyev, on Friday tried unsuccessfully to retrieve cash from ATM machines operated by two local banks.
“I was previously able to take cash from any [Armenian] bank, converting rubles to drams,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Astafyev was still able to use his Mir card for buying things from one Yerevan store. Its POS terminal is connected to one of at least two other Armenian banks that said they are continuing to accept Mir.
One of those banks, VTB Armenia, is a subsidiary of Russia’s second largest bank, VTB.
The Central Bank of Armenia (CBA) insisted, meanwhile, that it has not issued any orders or guidance to local banks regarding Mir.
“Armenia’s commercial banks manage their risks, including those related to sanctions, on their own,” the CBA said in a statement to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Central Bank data shows that Mir accounted for 17.4 percent of $4.3 billion worth of card transitions processed in Armenia in the first half of this year.
Russian-Armenian trade soared by 42 percent, to $1.6 billion, during the same period despite the Western economic sanctions against Moscow. Russia thus reinforced its status as Armenia’s leading trading partner.