By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek….
On Wednesday, December 23, the Central Bank of Russia released a new 100-ruble banknote commemorating the annexation of Crimea in March 2014. The new note is an extension of the numismatic propaganda campaign began with the minting of two new 10-ruble coins in October of last year.
A total of 20 million of the 10-ruble coins were to have been minted and up to 20 million of the new banknote will be printed as well, according to Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank Georgy Luntovsky.
As late as mid-November, Luntovsky was still in discussions with pro-Russian leaders in the Crimea (including the city governor of Sevastopol) as to the note’s design. Ultimately the Bank decided to utilize the same motifs as the 2014 coins.
One coin features the Swallow’s Nest fantasy castle, built on a cliffside on the beach in Yalta in 1912 by German oil company executive Baron von Steingel. The Swallow’s Nest had also previously been portrayed on the reverse of a 50-hryvnia gold commemorative coin issued by the National Bank of Ukraine in 2008.
The other coin depicts Sevastopol’s Monument to the Scuttled Ships, built in 1905 by Estonian sculptor Amandus Adamson. The monument honors the sacrifice of the Russian fleet during the Crimean War’s 11-month Siege of Sevastopol (1854-55).
The front of the new banknote features the Swallow’s Nest. Behind and to the right of the castle is an outline drawing of the Khan’s Palace in Bakhchysarai, Crimea. The minarets of the Khan’s Palace (Hansaray) complement the much-smaller spires of the faux-Gothic Swallow’s Nest, while the arches of the Palace correspond to the curved balcony walkways of the castle. A satellite dish rests along the bottom of the note, with the numerals “100”, the denomination in Russian, the year 2015 and the name of the issuing authority printed over it.
The back of the bill features Adamson’s Monument to the Scuttled Ships. Sevastopol is the historic home port of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, and an impression of Ivan Aivazovsky’s 1846 painting “The Russian Squadron on the Sevastopol Roads” seems to float above and behind the monument itself. The ensign (or flag) of the Russian Navy is predominantly placed to the left of the monument. Beneath the fleet and to the right is St. Vladimir’s Cathedral. At the bottom of the note is the Memorial to the Heroic Defenders of Sevastopol, built in 1967 by I. E. Fialko and V. V. Yakovlev to honor the Soviet soldiers and partisans who defended against the German army’s nine-month siege during World War II (1941-42). The numerals “100”, the denomination in Russian, the bill’s serial number and the inscription “Banknote of the Bank of Russia” are found in various places on the reverse.
Both sides feature a predominantly yellow-brown color scheme, with siginificant use of blue and sea-green.
Security features for the new note include:
- A “multitoned combined watermark” (a watermark with lighter and darker areas) of Russian Empress Catherine the Great (ruled 1762-96) near the top of the bill. It was during her reign that Crimea was originally added to the Russian Empire;
- A dark security thread, which features the currency symbol for ruble (₽, adopted in 2014) imprinted multiple times and the numerals “100” that appear to move when shifted–all of which is visible when held under a light;
- Discrete graphic elements incorporated into the background;
- Color-shifting numerals;
- Numerals visible only under “Black Light” (Ultraviolet light);
- Disguised ruble symbols (₽) that become prominent when viewed from an angle;
- Raised text and tactile features for the visually-impaired
The note also features a “Quick Resource” or QR code (next to the satellite dish on the reverse) that you can scan with your smartphone. It is the second world banknote to include such a code, following the 2014 Nigerian 100-naira note. Scanning the QR code opens a website about the history of Crimea from a Russian perspective.
Another interesting aspect of the new banknote’s release is the controversy surrounding the denomination’s previous design. In 2014, Russian lawmaker Roman Khudyakov claimed the bill was “pornographic” for its depiction of the statue of Apollo on the portico of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater.
The offending detail – Apollo’s raised tunic and exposed genitalia – is relatively inconspicuous on the printed note. But it was enough for Mr. Khudyakov to suggest replacing the legendary home of the Bolshoi Ballet with something more “child friendly”, such as, according to Khudyakov, imagery from the port city of Sevastopol.
Of course, the new bill–much like the 50-peso Falkland Islands note issued by Argentina in 2014–is a defiant act of propaganda on the part of the Russian Government and President Vladimir Putin, asserting the legitimacy of its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
The peninsula was annexed in March of 2014 after the removal of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych following a decade of political unrest that saw the country divided between the pro-European “West” and the pro-Russian “East”.
In response, Europe and other Western powers said that Russia had broken the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity, which Russia had signed. The European Union (EU) then declared economic sanctions against Russia, who retaliated in May 2015 by blacklisting several European politicians from traveling to and around the country.
The sanctions, along with a sharp drop in the price of crude oil (Russia’s main export; US$37.12 per barrel at the time of writing), have had a noticeably negative effect on the Russian economy, with some analysts stating that Russia is now in a recession. At the time of writing, the new 100-ruble note trades for approximately $1.38 USD–almost half of what it was worth in February 2014, right before annexation.
On Monday, December 21, the EU extended those sanctions through the middle of 2016.
Two days later, the new bank notes were released.
Western Ukrainians and eastern separatists (receiving not-so-covert military and logistical support from Russia) are currently observing a ceasefire, perhaps due to Russia’s prioritization of its involvement in the Syrian Civil War.
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