After local Russian media reported earlier this year that the Russian Parliament could legalize bitcoin as soon as 2018, Deputy Finance Minister Alexei Moiseev this week signaled that authorities might instead seek to restrict its use. During an interview with Russia 24, a state-owned news channel, Moiseev said that Russian authorities should treat cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, as sophisticated financial assets and restrict their use and trading to qualified investors only.
Moiseev’s statement surprised members of Russia’s digital currency community, who had been lead to believe that the Russian government was finally warming to digital currencies after years of skepticism. That belief was strengthened earlier this month when an aide to Vladimir Putin announced that he would seek to raise $100 million to build bitcoin mining infrastructure in Russia, with the goal of controlling as much as 30% of the bitcoin network’s hashpower.
“’Cryptocurrency should be regulated as a financial asset,’ Vedomosti reported him saying. ‘There is a point of view that cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin is a financial pyramid. Investments [in] such are high-risk. This determines our approach to their regulation.’
RBC quoted him saying: “We propose to call it a currency, but regulate it as other property, qualify it as a financial asset and allow only qualified investors to buy and sell them on the exchange.”
As a regulated financial security, Moiseev said cryptocurrencies would be sold through stock exchanges under the supervision of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service of the Russian Federation, also known as Rosfinmonitoring, according to Bitcoin Magazine.
Moiseev added that bitcoin is a “dangerous” investment, and that it’s the government’s duty to protect “ordinary people” from losing their shirts, according to CoinTelegraph.
“For ordinary people, there’s no way because these are very dangerous investments that could lead to loss of money.”
According to Moiseev, Russia’s ministry of finance is discussing how to proceed with the central bank and the Moscow stock exchange. Moiseev added that it is necessary for cryptocurrencies to sell through the exchange “to provide judicial protection to participants in transactions.”
Moiseev detailed that this approach to cryptocurrency regulation aims to protect the rights of buyers and sellers. “Now people do it at their own peril and risk, they have no judicial protection. This is our first task,” he was quoted by Vedomosti.
His comments then turned to the subject of money laundering.
“Citing Western Europe and Russia in particular, Ria Novosti quoted him saying “the use of cryptocurrency for illegal operations has become much more frequent because the mechanisms for combating money-laundering are not yet fully applied in all countries to cryptocurrencies.”
Finally, Moiseev said that the Russian government is uncomfortable with the anonymity provided by bitcoin.
“Moiseev also explained that it is necessary to sell bitcoins through the regulated stock exchange, so that the regulator will always know ‘who the seller is, who the buyer is, where these bitcoin accounts have moved.’”
What’s worse for bitcoiners is that Russia might be at the vanguard of a shift in how authorities view bitcoin. The SEC late last month declared that digital currencies, including bitcoin and the tokens issued during ICOs, should be treated as securities under the law.
So far, the SEC’s guidance has been vague. But the ease with which digital currencies could be used to finance illicit activities – regardless of whether they’re actually being used for that purpose – likely means that more government crackdowns are ahead. By requiring all local bitcoin exchanges to screen transactions for potential violations, China has found a way to pierce the anonymity surrounding digital-currency transactions.
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