In connection with American sanctions against the Kremlin for its actions in Ukraine, MasterCard and Visa have stopped processing certain transactions in Russia. The move has inspired some digital currency enthusiasts to propose Bitcoin, the world's leading crypto-currency, as a solution to Russia's monetary problems.
Bitcoin's popularity in Russia is not universal.In January, the Central Bank warned that the government would treat any use of Bitcoins as potential money laundering or terrorist financing. Months later, however, officials softened their position on the digital currency, refusing to endorse a full ban on Bitcoins. Regulation, not prohibition, was now the word of the day.
Bitcoins are currently accepted as payment in several online and offline shops and hotels throughout Russia. The country ranks fifth in global users, with 204,502. (The four nations ahead of Russia are the United States, with 1,133,272 users, China, with 368,004, Germany, with 247,658, and the United Kingdom, with 220,145.)
On Vkontakte, Russia's most popular online social network, there is a group dedicated to Bitcoins with more than sixteen thousand members. VK's founder, Pavel Durov, has praised the crypto-currency, mockingly comparing it to Russia's official legal tender, the rouble:
Биткоины обеспечены вычислительной мощностью многочисленных майнеров, их количество ограничено.
Опасность биткоина для власть имущих состоит в том, что он мешает им остригать стадо через выпуск макулатуры под названием “национальная валюта”.
Bitcoins are supported by the computing power of many users, and the number [of Bitcoins] is limited.
The danger Bitcoins pose to the rich and powerful is that they interfere with fleecing the sheeple, [which the authorities accomplish] by issuing more trash that they call “the national currency.”
Russian Bitcoin fans interact on several forums, such as Bitcoin Security, which attracts over thirteen thousand bloggers. The community says it wants to educate the public about digital currency. The first Bitcoin conference in Russia will be held on April 23, 2014, in Moscow. In May, St. Petersburg's European University will launch a free online course about Bitcoins.
The future for the digital currency in Russia, it seems, is bright.