Crypto Is a ‘Lifeline’ for Russian Citizens, Coinbase CEO Says

Crypto exchanges say they will comply with sanctions but refuse to impose a unilateral ban on Russian accounts


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key takeaways

  • More users are turning to crypto in Russia as the war in Ukraine intensifies, data show
  • The notion that crypto is being used to avoid sanctions is unfounded, the CEO said

Cryptocurrency exchanges are standing their ground on refusing to unilaterally ban Russian users.

Demand for crypto is building from users in Russia, according to Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, a sign that digital assets are providing a safe haven to the country’s sinking ruble.

“Some ordinary Russians are using crypto as a lifeline now that their currency has collapsed,” Armstrong said in a tweet Friday. “Many of them likely oppose what their country is doing, and a ban would hurt them, too.” 

Jesse Powell, the CEO of Kraken, said in a tweet the California-based exchange “cannot freeze the accounts of our Russian clients without a legal requirement to do so.”

The argument that Russian entities would use crypto to sidestep sanctions is unfounded given the open-ledger nature of cryptocurrencies, Armstrong said. Should the US government issue new bans, Coinbase would comply, he added.

Trading volumes between bitcoin and the Russian ruble hit a nine-month high last week, according to data from cryptocurrency research firm Kaiko. Volume on the most popular BTC/RUB trading pair, which trades on Binance, shows the most significant surge since May 2021.

Source: TradingView

Non-US based exchanges have taken a similar stance as Coinbase. Binance, which currently has no official headquarters, will not “unilaterally freeze millions of innocent users’ accounts,” a spokesperson said.

Bahamas-based FTX “plans to continue complying with the laws related to sanctioned countries,” a spokesperson said.

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