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War Is Calling Crypto's 'Neutrality' Into Question

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Right now, cryptocurrency trading is skyrocketing in popularity both in sanction-stricken Russia and war-torn Ukraine.

Credit: Elena Lacey/Getty Images

Whose side is cryptocurrency on? If you had asked Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous person (or persons) who created the Bitcoin platform in 2008, he/they likely would have rejected the question. The whole point of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin was neutrality—the fact that no government, bank, or entity could prevent you from using it, whether you were paying for a pizza, a forbidden book, or a bag of cocaine.

That, of course, started changing as soon as crypto's value made it the perfect medium for criminal transactions, from ransomware to dark net marketplaces. Regulators around the world demanded that exchanges and other "off-ramps" blacklist cryptocurrency from accounts linked to criminal activities or individuals, despite illicit trades accounting for just 0.15 percent of global crypto movements in 2021.

But Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a different matter. Crypto's nature as borderless money, and the abundance of youngish, passionate people sitting on troves of crypto-millions made it a go-to method for Ukraine to raise funds from people outraged by Moscow's actions. At the same time there were fears that government officials and Russian president Vladimir Putin's moneyed inner circle might side-step western sanctions by moving their assets into crypto.

Cryptocurrency exchanges are reportedly blocking all transactions from accounts known to be linked to sanctioned individuals.

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