Vladimir Putin issued five orders about cryptocurrencies that will have long-reaching effects on forex markets and international trade.
I’ve said many times that Vladimir Putin is a law and order kinda guy. From the moment he finished his meeting with Ethereum designer, Vitalik Buterin, back in March there has been a lot of conflicting stories coming out of Russia with respect to cryptocurrencies.
Over the weekend Putin finally made his full intentions for the technology known. Last week it was announced that Russia would be issuing a Crypto-Ruble, which would allow cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin to circulate side-by-side with the Ruble.
In my initial discussion of the Crypto-Ruble it looked to me like they would trade without a capital gains bias in the Russian marketplace. That doesn’t look like the case at this point. Though nothing has been set in stone, according to follow on statements by Deputy Finance Minister Nikolay Nikiforov.
Putin’s Five Words of Warning
Now, with the five latest orders from Putin, the crypto-world in Russia is to have a full-fledged legal framework for people to operate within. The high points of the orders are:
- Miners will have to register with the state to pay taxes on gains.
- Cryptocurrencies will be fit into the existing legal framework of the Russian financial system
- ICOs – Initial Coin Offerings — will get rules handed down by the Legislative branch and the Bank of Russia
- A sandbox environment will be established to test new technologies with the Bank of Russia before being deployed.
- A framework will be put in place for a regional cross-border payment system with the rest of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) Members — Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan an Belarus.
Okay, so what? The big thing here is that Putin is acutely aware of how cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology can springboard Russia’s ability to more efficiently handle capital. He rightly sees the opportunity for the hundreds of billions that have flowed into the crypto-space to find their way into Russia and be welcomed there to do real work in the legal economy.
Yeah, monetary anarchists like me bristle at this legal stuff and taxes being applied to cryptos. Putin will find out just how hard it is to extract all of the taxes he is looking to collect but that is a bigger question for another day.
What’s important here is that cryptos will become part of every day life of people in those countries. It will leverage the existing legal framework of Russia for putting the physical economy on the blockchain while also enhancing it at the same time.
Sure, eventually Ethereum’s smart contracts can replace all the physical contracts we currently manage and store and fight over. But, there are a lot of steps between getting from where we are to there.
There’s still not much there there, to quote Gertrude Stein.
Cryptos + Legality = Trust
In this respect existing law is an asset not a burden. So, embracing cryptos to assist in strengthening contract dispute resolution and chain of custody for an emerging market like Russia and the frontiers of the EAEU is an enormous step forward.
Ask any savvy investor or financial professional about Russia or any frontier market and they say, “It’s not the return on my capital I’m worried about, it’s the return of it.”
In other words, the big advantage the U.S., the U.K. and Europe have over a lot of the world is the legal framework to ensure that your business can’t be summarily seized or that you have some avenue to get your money back if it’s stolen.
There is real legal risk to investing in these places. Russia still carries that stigma and will for a long time. So will China. And if you look carefully you’ll see that they are working diligently to raise their profile on this front.
No one does business with someone you don’t trust. This is the essence of commerce and society itself. This is why Putin feels so strongly about building legal frameworks, even if they wind up being the wrong ones. Rules create the potential for trust.
What’s the biggest worry everyone has about cryptos? Trust. Thieves be everywhere; looking to steal your private keys and make the quick score. It doesn’t matter if its a hacker running some malware or some shady dude’s latest ICO.
Of all the stuff in these orders, the EAEU angle is the most interesting in the long-view. Russia will export these rules across the EAEU and standardize the use of cryptos in these countries, helping to facilitate cross borders capital flows without the any of the local central banks having to worry about currency building up.
In one short burst of words, Putin just lessened the risk of being wiped out by aggressive monetary policy from the Federal Reserve. Think it through, it’s staring you in the face.
Think of it like this. I have a business in Moscow with clients in Astana. They can pay me in bitcoins which I can exchange for rubles when I need to or use to pay my suppliers in Minsk. My client never has to go to his Kazakh bank and exchange Tenge for Rubles (yes, I know the Kazakh currency name off the top of my head). I never have to go to my bank and exchange Rubles for Belorussian Rubles.
Bitcoin and other cryptos can be taken as payments, made a part of my business’s accounting and all of that and the Bank of Russia only has to deal with regulating the flow of rubles throughout the domestic economy. It becomes more immune to external attack like late 2014.
Putin is both defending the ruble for internal Russian use while at the same time making it easy for capital to move across borders without it affecting domestic monetary policy.
Forex recycling needs are dramatically lowered because the central bank no longer has to deal with the build up of foreign currency reserves which have to be maintained and invested. Those reserves are now floating around in crypto-space waiting to cross whatever border they need to next.
Some may flow into the Ruble, some may flow into crypto-loans, housing, etc. But, the central bank is alleviated of managing huge piles of money because the economy no longer depends on the supply of their currency.
Putin gets this. If he doesn’t then someone in Russia’s government does. He may have to lower the capital gains tax eventually, but at this point 13% is cheap versus his nearest competitors, so that’s not a concern.
What this does is begins the process of accepting cryptos into the legal economy and moving Russia way up the charts of where capital is treated best.
And we all know where capital flows, right?
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