Central Bank data showed late last week that the
total demand for foreign currency, chiefly the dollar and the
euro, reached $14.9 billion in March, the highest since January
2009, the aftermath of the global financial crisis.
Demand was 1.5 times higher than in February, and came as
President Vladimir Putin said in early March he had the right to
invade Ukraine to defend Russian speakers there. He then annexed
Crimea, spurring condemnation and sanctions from the West.
"In March 2014 amid the continued weakening of the ruble against
major world currencies and the uncertainty of expecting further
declines, the aggregate demand for foreign currency has
increased dramatically," the central bank said in a statement.
It offered no other detail for why the ruble had fallen.
Russians also rushed to take foreign cash out of their banks at
a record-high pace, the bank said, withdrawing a total of $6.9
billion, nearly half of that from their dollar accounts.
The ruble lost nearly 9 percent in the first three months of the
year against the dollar and a bit more than 8 percent against
the euro, according to Reuters' calculations, with most the fall
registered in March.
The Russian currency has recouped some of its losses since, but
the population's switch to foreign currencies deals a blow to
the central bank, which had gradually tried to establish the
ruble as a trustworthy currency.
The ruble closed at 35.04 against the dollar on Thursday before
a long holiday weekend in Russia and at 48.53 versus the euro.
The ruble is still almost 6.5 percent down against the dollar
since the start of the year.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Kim Coghill)
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