Russia is making its own blockchain currency. According to the Russian News Agency, the chairwoman of the Russian Central Bank announced regulators now agree national cryptocurrencies are the future. “After our pilot projects we will understand what system we could use in our case for our national currency," chairwoman Olga Skorobogatova told the crowd at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. However, it’s still unclear how Russian cryptocurrency would live alongside global blockchain tokens like bitcoin and ether.
Over the past few months, Russia has moved to legalize and regulate cryptocurrency trading. Skorobogatova previously said an outright ban on bitcoin and currencies of its ilk would be infeasible. Unconfirmed reports from Russian news aggregators claimed on Friday that Herman Gref, the CEO of Russia’s Sberbank, will help develop a “Russian Bitcoin,” to serve as “the only cryptocurrency freely available [cryptocurrency] for sale and purchase.”
Earlier this year, Gref said at a conference Russia could have industrial-scale blockchain deployment by 2019. But according to Reuters, Russian authorities have historically been skeptical about bitcoin, associating it with money laundering and terrorism. Treating bitcoin as parallel currency is currently illegal in Russia. Only time will tell how regulators will treat competing cryptocurrencies as the new policies take shape.
Elvira Nabiullina, governor of the Russian Central Bank, said the Kremlin does not plan to make bitcoin itself a legal tender. "We don't consider that bitcoin can be considered as a virtual currency. It's more digital assets with the regulation of assets," she told CNBC.
Despite the uncertainties, many Russian bitcoin traders are celebrating. “Thousands of people are taking part of this [blockchain] movement, you see a conference in Moscow almost every week. You see Russian blockchain media with big traffic,” said Alexey Antonov from Moscow, a financial advisor at the Russian Supercomputer Organized by Network Mining. SONM plans to launch their initial coin offering in June and make blockchain technology without hash-based traditional cryptocurrency mining.
Antonov said he is excited for Russia to make a sort of crypto-ruble. “I’m glad the Central Bank of Russia established some regulation and their own cryptocurrency,” Antonov told International Business Times. “We think that in Russia there will be some official currency, it will be better for all of us, because we’ll have a method to transfer money from our blockchain companies. It’s better than nothing.”
In the near future, Antonov said blockchain could help regular Russian citizens and businesses, not just the tech-savvy startup community, by simplifying small business loans. “Obviously, it will be very regulated,” he said. “Maybe we can store our money and pay our taxes legally, it would be great. Right now you can’t spend bitcoin or exchange it for ruble.”
Russia isn’t the only one making a national cryptocurrency. Both China and the Palestinian Monetary Authority recently announced they too plan to make national cryptocurrencies. Meanwhile, Reuters reported Japan and South Korea are working on ways to recognize cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, integrating decentralized blockchain tender into their national monetary systems. It looks like Russia will be the next government to usher its blockchain community out of the shadows into a cryptographic economy.
Antonov said he thinks Russian government officials are tuned in to the broader blockchain landscape. “They are really good at understanding what’s going on in our crypto-world,” he said.