Most banks in Armenia still accept Russia’s Mir cards, despite threat of US sanctions

By Mark Dovich

15 of Armenia’s 17 banks still accept Russia’s Mir payment cards, CivilNet has found, despite sanctions warnings from the United States.

Over the past month, CivilNet’s investigative reporting team reached out to representatives of each bank, asking if Mir payments are still processed and, if so, if there are any plans to halt them.

Only HSBC Bank Armenia and Mellat Bank do not accept Mir cards, CivilNet found. The remaining banks, including many of Armenia’s largest banks, continue to accept Mir and have no plans to stop doing so, representatives said.

Armenia’s Central Bank said in response to a CivilNet inquiry that it does not plan on forcing banks to halt Mir payments either, saying, “Armenian commercial banks independently manage their risks, including those related to sanctions.”

In September, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a warning to financial institutions outside the United States that processing Mir payments could expose them to the risk of secondary sanctions. The Russian company that issues Mir cards, a subsidiary of Russia’s Central Bank, is not under U.S. sanctions, but its chief executive is.

Following Treasury’s announcement, banks in Turkey, Vietnam, and a number of Central Asian countries said they would no longer accept Mir cards, despite assurances from the Russian issuer that U.S. actions would not affect Mir payment system operations.

Mir’s global coverage area shrunk by 90% after Treasury’s announcement, the Moscow Times reported, leaving Belarus the only country outside Russia where Mir cards are freely accepted. Armenia is among the few countries remaining where some banks continue processing Mir payments.

Mir cards became the payment method of choice for many Russians after Mastercard and Visa pulled out of the country in response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.

Russia began developing Mir in 2014 as a way to skirt sanctions imposed in response to its illegal annexation of Crimea and initial invasion of eastern Ukraine that year. It has since issued over 100 million cards.

Armenian banks have posted record profits this year amid unprecedented inflows of money to the country. $3.5 billion has poured into Armenian banks in the first nine months of the year, according to newly updated figures from the country’s Central Bank. Transfers from Russia accounted for two-thirds of the total.

With additional reporting by Hovhannes Nazaretyan