IPRI – Islamabad Policy Research Institute

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A New Regional Geo-Economic Reset

The Dawn of a New Sino-Russian Indian Monetary System 

By Ozer Khalid, senior consultant and foreign policy expert. 

After Russia`s Ukraine invasion, the financial noose tightens around Moscow`s neck, with economic sanctions thrust upon Russian banks, organizations and oligarchs by the U.S, the G-7 and Western countries blunting the Central Bank of Russia’s from deploying its foreign reserves with sweeping export bans. Many nations are stripping Russia of it`s Most Favoured Nation status at the WTO.  

The diminishing value of the U.S. dollar in an ever-evolving multi-polar world has been predicted since ages, however, Russia`s invasion of Ukraine, sanctions on Moscow, export bans on Russian products collectively hasten international transaction realignment in an age of fluid geo-economics.

Moscow`s ouster from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) money transfer system, especially disrupts Russian oil and gas payments and trade. This builds a mounting motivation, especially in Russia India and China, to (partially) de-dollarize their trade and economies. Russia`s 300 banks are already turning to Moscow`s own SWIFT equivalent known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS) as Russia`s interbank traffic transfers to this platform.

However, Russia`s SPFS must overcome challenges. To eventually rival SWIFT it must increase it`s working hours to 24/7 including weekends, broaden in size and widen it`s jurisdiction beyond Turkey, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Kazakhstan.

Many in India are now lobbying for an India Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) to replace the SWIFT system with a need to devise a global payment interface (GPI) based on CBDC. India’s CBDC as an alternative to the SWIFT system hastens the velocity, volume and intensity of cross-border deals and projects especially involving sanctioned countries like Russia and Iran. This could subsequently advantage Indian exporters by reducing their costs. Presently, transactions go through many banks, and each of them impose transaction costs, thus augmenting trading costs. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) can also explore similar alternatives especially since it relaxed the rules on the creation of Electronic Money Institutions (EMIs) who offer interoperable and secure digital payments.  

Russian oil sales to India complicate U.S. efforts to isolate Moscow`s economy with sanctions. The Indian Oil Corporation, a major refiner, bought three million barrels of Russian Urals from trader Vitol for delivery in May at a discount denominated in Rupees-Roubles. The Federation of Indian Export Organizations requested their government to set up a rupee-ruble mechanism to facilitate trade with Russia.  Indian exporters lament that around $500 million are stuck as Russian buyers can`t pay in foreign exchange. The trade in local currencies could take place between Russian banks and companies with rupee denominated accounts in Indian state-run banks bypassing the U.S. dollar.

Modern technologies and online distributed ledgers such as blockchain accelerate the onset of new competition against the U.S. dollar. For instance, an Indian Parliamentary committee explores indigenous financial systems mirroring Ripple a blockchain-based digital payment network with its own cryptocurrency based on consensus, via a group of bank-owned servers, to verify transactions. Moscow could also resort to other cryptocurrencies bypassing sanctions (crypto, however, is presently banned in Islamabad and Beijing).

New Delhi is also considering adopting the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) a European special-purpose vehicle created to promote non-USD non-SWIFT transactions with Iran to avoid breaching American sanctions. Others could emulate such systems.

Russia`s economy, heavily dependent on export revenues inches intimately closer to China, threatens the U.S. dollar’s hegemony in volatile international capital markets. Russia is China ’s second major crude oil supplier and Beijing increasingly benefits from cost-effective Russian fossil fuels, notably oil and gas, to fire-up their mammoth economy. China is Russia’s biggest coal importer. Russia`s Eastward reset also benefits Pakistan by accelerating the Pakistan Gas Stream Project from Karachi to Kasur in the aftermath of Imran Khan`s meeting with Vladimir Putin in an age where Pakistan pivots toward “geo-economics”.  

A Russian led Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) along with China are designing the apparatus for independent financial and payment systems to sidestep US dollar transactions, accelerating a (partial) economic decoupling from the West.

At a recent Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) meeting Russia and China agreed to design an independent global monetary and financial system confirmed the Eurasia Economic Commission, the EAEU`s  regulatory entity. The EAEU comprises of Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia, develops free trade agreements with other Eurasian nation-states, and is swiftly linking with China`s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), whose major artery is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. This implies that the new financial system will impact (potentially benefit) Pakistan.

China and Russia increasingly synergize efforts to surpass the US unipolar dollar-denominated financial architecture and create a parallel international monetary scheme. An emergent Eurasian monetary system is  envisaged with a new international currency aligned with China`s currency (the Renminbi) with a broader basket of currencies, integrating commodity prices, the preliminary draft will be reflected upon at the end of March, 2022.

The envisaged Eurasian financial system is likely to rival the American dollar, as the EAEU is set to broaden participation luring in not just states that joined the Belt and Road Initiative but also members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (of which Pakistan, India and Iran are all members) along with ASEAN, Central Asian Republics, and FATF grey listed Turkey and the UAE as well as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon would be interested.

Meanwhile, China’s currency, the Renminbi, has it`s own SWIFT alternative and Cross-border Interbank System (CIPS) increasingly luring Moscow. Beijing will calculate each move cautiously as it does not seek to dent rapport with Western nations nor imperil its access to the wider global capital markets by openly aiding sanctions evasion. China`s teaming up with Russia is likely to be gradual rather than sudden.

The U.S. dollar remains the dominant global reserve currency, with an estimated fifty-nine per cent of central banks internationally maintaining their reserves in greenback offering Washington leverage. However, the share of the US dollar reserves held by central banks dropped to its lowest level in twenty-five years, according to the IMF’s Currency Composition of Official Foreign Exchange Reserves (COFER) survey.

The Russia Ukraine war compels Russia, China and other American contenders to dilute their dependence on a U.S. dollar-centered world. Expect to see trade in other currencies as well as alternative (mutually compatible) payment messaging systems that surpass SWIFT.

Global economic realignment is afoot but will not be as straightforward or linear as pundits suggest. Many states are still wary of cryptocurrencies and China`s Renminbi is subject to foreign exchange controls, there are restrictions of it`s capital flows into and out of China. Also, China`s SWIFT alternative CIPS and Russia`s SPFS are much smaller as compared to SWIFT. China`s Renminbi may “rise” but will not immediately “rule”.

Over the long haul, the intensification of alternative financial clearing houses, payment protocols and distributed ledgers imply a weakening of the Bretton Woods structure. The American dollar and neo-liberal market hegemony are up against turbulence.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent the institute’s policy.

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