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Bitcoin Trading Against the Ruble Surges as Russia's Currency Crashes

Crypto exchange volumes in Russia have soared as the country faces sweeping international sanctions—while Ukraine urges blocks on Russian users.

3 min read
Russia and Bitcoin. Image: Shutterstock

Ruble/Bitcoin trading volume has surged to nine-month highs as the Russian currency collapsed against the dollar in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

According to data by blockchain analytics company Kaiko, published in Coindesk, ruble-denominated Bitcoin trades blew up by as much as $1.5 billion on Thursday.

The bulk of the activity was concentrated on Binance, confirmed Kaiko research analyst Clara Medalie in an email to the publication. 

The data also reveals that Tether/Ruble trading volume rose to an eight-month high of 1.3 billion RUB on Thursday.

The ruble fell by 30% against the dollar on Monday morning, to under 1 U.S. cent, before staging a limited recovery as the Russian central bank raised its key interest rate.

Ruble/U.S. Dollar chart. Image: TradingView

How has the war hit the exchanges?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted rapid and sweeping sanctions from North America and the European Union, including Russia’s ejection from parts of the SWIFT international payments system and a ban on deals with Russia’s central bank, which holds much of its $630 billion in foreign exchange reserves in overseas coffers.

These measures are intended to isolate Russia’s economy, and they will be difficult for Russia to find workarounds for. As the ruble collapses, the Bank of Russia is prevented from selling its forex reserves to mitigate the damage.

Crypto and sanctions

Crypto could provide a means for Russians to evade economic restrictions, but that may not be the case for much longer. Per a report in the Wall Street Journal, the Biden administration is in the "early stages" of exploring sanctions on Russian crypto activity, targeting exchanges that violate bans against transactions with blacklisted Russian banks.

Tom Keatinge, Director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies (CFCS) at RUSI, told Decrypt that in addition to the legal pressure faced by crypto exchanges, “There is a reputation issue here. Do you want now or after the fact to be known as the exchange that facilitated sanctions evasion… even if it were not technically legal?”

Yesterday, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov took to Twitter to ask “all major crypto exchanges to block addresses of Russian users.”

Both Binance and Kraken declined to enforce the request. Binance cited its commitment to protect all of its customers, while Kraken CEO Jesse Powell argued that there is no legal requirement to comply with the request. 

Earlier today, Binance confirmed to Reuters that it will block all individual Russian accounts targeted by sanctions. Per The Block, Ukraine plans to “make legal demands” of crypto exchanges, with Yulia Parkhomenko, head of the virtual assets expert group at the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, telling the publication that, “This is a necessary measure. There is no way to identify who is financing the war and who is not.” 

For now, ordinary Russian users have uninhibited access to crypto. 

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