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Russia's biggest bank Sberbank gets permission to exchange crypto, as sanctions hobble transfers of dollars

Mar 18, 2022, 21:08 IST
Business Insider
People queue outside Sberbank to withdraw cash.MICHAL CIZEK/AFP via Getty Images.
  • The Bank of Russia gave Sberbank a license to issue and exchange digital assets on Thursday.
  • The country's largest bank said sanctions have limited some forex transfers in Russia and internationally.

Russia's central bank has granted Sberbank a license to issue and exchange crypto as sanctions hit its forex transfers.

The Bank of Russia on Thursday added the lender to its register of companies allowed to issue digital financial assets, and also granted a license to ecosystem operator Lighthouse.

Sberbank, which applied in January to launch a stablecoin, said it will let companies issue their own crypto assets, Reuters reported. It will buy those released via its blockchain-based platform and carry out other transactions.

The licenses mark a shift for the Bank of Russia, which has called for an outright ban on crypto usage, mining and trading in the country.

The country's biggest bank said that Western sanctions targeting Russia have limited the list of currencies it has available to transfer to other banks overseas and in Russia, Reuters reported.

"This means that Sberbank will not be able to make transfers to other banks in US dollars, Canadian dollars, pounds sterling, Danish crowns and Swedish krona," the company said on its Telegram channel, according to Reuters.

The US cut off Sberbank's direct access to the dollar in early March via an order to its banks, as part of sanctions coordinated with allies. Several Russian banks have been banned from the SWIFT messaging system that underpins global transfers between institutions, making it difficult for them to move funds out of Russia.

US lawmakers have raised concerns that Russia could use crypto assets to sidestep sanctions.


Sen. Elizabeth Warren and 11 other Democrats proposed a bill on Wednesday to allow the US government to block transactions with Russian-linked crypto addresses.

In October, the US Treasury warned that decentralized digital assets could dampen the impact of sanctions.

But crypto experts told a Senate hearing Thursday there is no evidence that Russia is using digital assets to evade sanctions.

"You can't flip a switch overnight, and run a G-20 economy on cryptocurrency," Michael Mosier, a deputy director at US enforcement agency FinCEN, told lawmakers.

Sberbank applied for a license with the Bank of Russia to launch a stablecoin in January, according to CoinDesk.

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