March 23 (Reuters) - Russia's central bank has increased its holdings of gold by one million troy ounces since the start of the war in Ukraine, data published by the central bank on Wednesday showed.
Western sanctions, imposed shortly after Moscow invaded Ukraine, froze about half of Russia's gold and forex reserves and hit the country's main banks which used to be the main buyers of Russian miners' gold, prompting producers to search for new export routes to Asia.
In October, the local association of Russian gold miners called for the government to support the industry with more active purchases, though the central bank rebuffed the calls, saying it saw no need to raise its gold holdings within its reserves.
This week the bank said its gold holdings stood at 74.9 million troy ounces as of March 1, 2023, worth some $135.56 billion - up from 73.9 million ounces on Feb. 1, 2022, when it last disclosed such data.
Russia's central bank and other government departments stopped publishing swathes of data after the West hit Moscow with a package of unprecedented sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.
In dollar-terms, the bank's gold holdings were up 2.5% over the 13-month period, according to the bank's calculations. Gold accounted for 23.6% of the bank's $574.2 billion total reserves.
Western countries froze about $300 billion - almost half of Russia's reserves at the time - that were held in their jurisdictions at the start of the conflict in a move which few in Moscow predicted the West would make.
Locked out of the dollar and euro, Russia has shifted towards the Chinese yuan as a reserve currency over the last year.
(Reporting by Jake Cordell and Polina Devitt, Editing by William Maclean)
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