Russian officials have spent many months trying to decide how the government should deal with Bitcoin and other digital currencies. That debate has included everything from proposals that would criminalize Bitcoin ownership to suggestions that cryptocurrencies should be embraced and regulated. An announcement from Russian Central Bank First Deputy Governor Sergei Shvetsov could signal that the debate is over, as he said that officials will soon block access to websites that enable Russians to buy, sell, or trade digital currencies.
Shetsov described digital currencies as “dubious” and suggested that the government needs to take action to ensure that consumers are protected:
“We cannot stand apart. We cannot give direct and easy access to such dubious instruments for retail (investors).”
That news came on the same day that President Vladimir Putin appeared to wade into the contentious debate. In remarks to reporters in Sochi, Putin asserted that digital currencies could be a vehicle for tax evasion, money-laundering, and terror financing. He also focused on their anonymity, noting:
“Crypto-currencies are issued by an unlimited number of anonymous bodies. Thus buyers of crypto-currencies could be involved in unlawful activities.”
Russian media outlet RBC has reported that the central bank is now working with the Prosecutor General’s Office in its effort to shut down Russians' access to digital currency exchange websites. Reuters reportedly sought information from the Russian finance ministry about the impact this decision might have on the previously announced plan to regulate digital currencies, but no officials were available for comment.