Crypto exchange Binance curbs services in Russia

9 months, 2 weeks ago - April 21, 2022
Crypto exchange Binance curbs services in Russia
New U.S. sanctions imposed for Russian bank, oligarchs, crypto miner BitRiver

Crypto exchange Binance curbs services in Russia

The world's largest cryptocurrency exchange is deactivating the accounts of its major clients in Russia, it said on Thursday, cutting back its services in the country in line with European Union sanctions.

Binance told users that Russian nationals and people living in the country, as well as companies based there, that hold crypto worth over 10,000 euros ($10,900), would be banned from making new deposits or trading.

Affected clients would however be able to withdraw funds, it said.

Accounts for Russia-linked users that have completed address checks and hold crypto worth less than 10,000 euros would remain active, Binance added.

In its fifth package of sanctions on Russia, the EU this month targeted digital wallets used to store, send, receive and spend cryptocurrencies, part of broader efforts to close potential loopholes that could allow Russians to move money abroad.

Binance, along with major U.S. exchanges Coinbase Global Inc and Kraken, had rejected calls from Kyiv for a total ban on Russian users after President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a "special operation" to demilitarise and "denazify" the country.

Binance said in March it would not "unilaterally freeze millions of innocent users' accounts", but that it would ensure compliance with sanctions.

It also said last month that cardholders of Russian banks subject to sanctions would not be able to use the cards on their platform and confirmed that individuals in the same category had had their access restricted.

New U.S. sanctions imposed for Russian bank, oligarchs, crypto miner BitRiver

The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on dozens of people and entities, including a Russian commercial bank and a virtual currency mining company, hoping to target Moscow's evasion of existing sanctions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The U.S. Treasury Department said it designated a virtual currency mining company for the first time, alongside more than 40 people, and entities led by U.S.-designated Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev.

“Treasury can and will target those who evade, attempt to evade, or aid the evasion of U.S. sanctions against Russia, as they are helping support Putin’s brutal war of choice,” Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Brian Nelson, said in a statement.

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The United States and its allies have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Moscow since its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, including targeting the country's largest lenders and Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.

Wednesday's move targets Russia's virtual currency mining industry, reportedly the third largest in the world, sanctioning the holding company of Moscow-based bitcoin miner BitRiver, which operates a data center in Siberia, and 10 of the holding company's Russia-based subsidiaries.

In a statement, Igor Runets, the founder and chief executive of BitRiver, said his company has "never provided services to Russian government institutions and has not worked with customers already targeted by Washington's sanctions."

"These U.S. actions should obviously be viewed as interference in the crypto mining industry, unfair competition and an attempt to change the global balance of power in favor of American companies," Runets said.

The Treasury also put sanctions on Russian commercial bank Transkapitalbank, whose representatives it said serve several banks in Asia, including in China, and the Middle East, and have suggested options to evade international sanctions.

Its subsidiary, Investtradebank, was also designated.

Wednesday's action freezes any U.S. assets of those designated and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.

But Washington issued two general licenses related to Transkapitalbank alongside the sanctions, authorizing the wind down of dealings with the bank until May 20 and certain transactions destined for or originating from Afghanistan until Oct. 20 "in support of efforts to address the humanitarian crisis."

The United States also imposed additional sanctions on Russian oligarch Malofeyev, whom U.S. authorities have long accused of being one of the main sources of financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea. He was first designated under the Obama administration in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Justice Department charged Malofeyev with violating sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. read more

"The United States will work to ensure that the sanctions we have imposed, in close coordination with our international partners, degrade the Kremlin’s ability to project power and fund its invasion," Nelson said.

The U.S. State Department is also imposing visa restrictions on over 600 people in a bid to promote accountability for human rights abuses and violations, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, barring them from traveling to the United States.

Three Russian officials were also hit with visa restrictions over "gross violations of human rights" alongside 17 others hit with restrictions over accusations of undermining democracy in Belarus.

"We will use every tool to promote accountability for human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in Ukraine," Blinken said.

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