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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Likes Dollars in Any Form

Lines of angry customers at exchange offices? Outrageous bank commissions? Poor exchange rates? In fact, none of the panic many expected to grip Moscow after the revamped U.S. $100 bill hit Russia last month seems to have materialized; if anything, it's the new bill that's having trouble winning acceptance.

"There is no [exchange] frenzy, no one insists on collecting his money only in new bills or old bills, it's all the same to people," said Igor Gorkin, a cash-desk dealer at Tveruniversal Bank's central branch. "But customers say they preferred the design of the old $100 bill."

Yelena, an 18-year-old customer at an exchange point on Bolshaya Dmitrovka, was one who had trouble making the adjustment. The old note, she explained, "feels so much closer to me."

But by and large, Russians -- estimated to hold close to $20 billion in U.S. currency, mostly denominated in hundreds -- have been philosophical about the switch.

"What the dollar looks like is not important. The main thing is to have them," said Vladimir, a 48-year-old pensioner as he pocketed his cash on Bolshaya Dmitrovka.

William Murden, the U.S. Treasury Department representative in Moscow, said Russian banks were bringing an average of $100 million in new bills into the country daily, somewhat less than expected.

The amount is clearly less than saturation level: Two exchange offices on the Garden Ring said they have not had any of the new bills since they went into circulation in Moscow and the United States on March 25.

Even U.S. officials, who organized a $1 million publicity campaign for the launch of the anti-counterfeiting bill, seem to have relaxed their efforts. Numerous calls to the telephone helpline set up at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to handle information and inquiries about the new $100 bill were left unanswered Thursday.

While a consortium of leading Russian banks had agreed with the Central Bank a ceiling of 2 percent on commission charges for swapping old notes for new, the rate on the street is not as steep.

At an exchange point near Mayakovskaya, a teller offered to swap an old $100 bill for a new one through a regular exchange transaction, buying the old bills at 4,920 rubles per dollar and then selling the new bills at 4,960 per dollar -- amounting to a commission of about 0.8 percent.

At Tveruniversal's Chekovskaya branch, clients willing to collect cash in $100 bills from their deposit accounts have the choice between new and old banknotes at no commission charge, said Konstantin Kosovan, a manager at one of Tveruniversal's branches.

"Some customers ask for old bills only because they say the new ones are not always accepted by exchange offices," said Tatyana Alexeyevna, explaining that some exchange points lack up-to-date anti-counterfeiting scanners to test the new notes.

One customer was so puzzled at being given a new-look bill that he asked for a U.S. Treasury leaflet to verify that it was real money, Alekseyevna said.