MOSCOW May 12 Russians ditched the rouble in
March at the fastest pace in more than four years, official data
showed, as the currency was hit by fallout from the worst
standoff with the West since the Cold War over Ukraine.
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 rouble
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 rouble 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 rouble 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
rouble as a trustworthy currency.
The rouble closed at 35.04 against the dollar on Thursday
before a long holiday weekend in Russia and at 48.53 versus the
euro. The rouble is still almost 6.5 percent down against the
dollar since the start of the year.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Kim Coghill)