"Some ordinary Russians are using crypto as a lifeline now."
At least two major cryptocurrency exchanges have told Russians they're open for business despite the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Coinbase Global and Binance are keeping their markets open unless US laws or sanctions prohibit them from doing so, and Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong explained his stance in a series of tweets earlier this week.
"Some ordinary Russians are using crypto as a lifeline now that their currency has collapsed," Armstrong tweeted Thursday. Many of them likely oppose what their country is doing, and a ban would hurt them, too. That said, if the US government decides to impose a ban, we will of course follow those laws."
8/ Some ordinary Russians are using crypto as a lifeline now that their currency has collapsed. Many of them likely oppose what their country is doing, and a ban would hurt them, too. That said, if the US government decides to impose a ban, we will of course follow those laws.
— Brian Armstrong - barmstrong.eth (@brian_armstrong) March 4, 2022
A Reuters video published on YouTube this week showed clips of Russian citizens lining up down the street outside a bank waiting to take out cash while they still could, so Armstrong's concern that everyday people need access to financial services is true. Binance made a similar statement to Reuters via email.
"We are not going to unilaterally freeze millions of innocent users' accounts," a spokesperson for the world's biggest crypto exchange told the outlet in a report published yesterday.
Given the history and leadership at the two exchanges, the decision isn't surprising. Binance was founded in China by Changpeng Zhao but moved to the Cayman Islands after the Chinese government banned crypto, according to the Daily Mail. Armstrong made his position clear in the tweet thread above, and he added that Coinbase will continue to offer services to Ukrainians in need.
Armstrong said online that oligarchs affected by sanctions wouldn't be likely to use a blockchain product that tracks money movements to skirt sanctions, and he's probably right. Still, as much as it's admirable for any financial institution to help citizens trapped in a dictatorship, they can only assist as long as the US doesn't impose blanket sanctions or laws they'll have to comply with.
If that happens, Russian residents will be hard up to find financial services at all.
More on the ongoing invasion: Authorities Furious that Russia Attacked Nuclear Plant