One of the first punitive measures leveled against Russia in response to the military invasion of Ukraine was the implementation of economic sanctions aimed at isolating the country from the international financial system. On March 12, Russian banks lost access to the international payments and messaging network SWIFT, and private sector payment companies, such as Visa, PayPal and Mastercard, were close behind. But while these highly regulated and publicly scrutinized organizations were quick to react to the crisis, concerns quickly mounted that the Russian state, as well as companies and oligarchs associated with it, could turn to digital currency exchanges as a backdoor to side-step sanctions.
In the United Kingdom, the Bank of England and Financial Conduct Authority asked crypto firms to enforce sanctions across their platforms, and central banks and regulators around the world have since joined this chorus of concern. Most recently, Japan announced it would be revising its Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act. This aims to widen its breadth to apply to crypto assets, meaning exchanges will be required to assess whether their clients are Russian sanction targets.
And yet some of the most well-known crypto exchanges are still dragging their feet, reluctant to toe the line drawn by global policymakers and regulators. Binance, the world’s biggest exchange, as well as Coinbase and Kraken, have all shown empathy for the plight of Ukrainians, and some have frozen accounts linked to sanctioned individuals, but they have all stopped short of stepping back out of Russia or blocking all money flows into and out of the country.
Could regulation be the answer?
The Financial Stability Board announced in February it would be developing a global regulatory framework for crypto assets, the first significant step in international homogenous guidelines. At the same time, the United States Securities and Exchange Committee launched a plan to regulate alternative trading systems, which would let regulators probe into crypto platforms and even decentralized finance protocols.
As it stands, there is no sign that these regulations will mandate action on economic sanctions, but they will introduce further checks and balances that will lend greater transparency to the money flowing through digital asset exchanges and further dissuade illicit activity. But it’s no secret that regulators are playing catch up with the rapid pace of innovation in the crypto space, and we should not wait for them to catch up to do the right thing. It’s up to us to carry the torch for the reputation of the industry we all love.
This article does not contain investment advice or recommendations. Every investment and trading move involves risk, and readers should conduct their own research when making a decision.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Przemysław Kral is the CEO of Zonda (previously BitBay) and serves on its board of directors. Previously, Przemysław was BitBay’s chief legal officer. He’s played a key role in Zonda’s strategic business development, including its regulatory approval in Canada and Estonia. Przemysław has over 20 years of experience in the legal field and is a member of the Foreign Lawyers’ Association of the British Bar Council.