What’s the Russian Government Doing With Blockchain?

Over the last six months or so, Russian state corporations, such as lenders VEB and Sberbank, encouraged by the government, have been investing in blockchain technology. However, the investment is yet to bear fruit, while the country’s authorities are still ambivalent about the crypto space.

Government Priority

The Russian government has been welcoming blockchain as a promising technology since March 2017. Back then, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered the creation of a working group focused on possible uses of blockchain in state governance.

The technology also fits Russia’s plans for building a digital economy, announced by President Vladimir Putin at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum (SPIEF) a few months later.

Although Putin didn’t specifically mention blockchain, some other high-placed officials did, including First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, who referred to “blockchain” as “the number one task.”

So, it comes as no surprise that state-run corporations were among the first to at least fiddle with the technology, investing in its development and running test projects.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum

Promoting Blockchain in the Public Sector

In October, 2017, the state-run project-financing bank Vneshekonombank (VEB) opened the country’s first blockchain competence center in Moscow, aiming to finance several pilot projects that would eventually prove the usefulness of blockchain for government agencies and the public sector in general.

VEB also signed an agreement with Ethereum Foundation on the use of the technology for its projects.

The competence center’s pilot project is to run from January to July 2018, focusing on converting the land and property registry of all Moscow property to a blockchain in collaboration with the state property agency, Rosreyestr.

Tech-Savvy Lender

In January 2018, Sberbank, the country’s largest, state-run lender – and, arguably, the most tech-savvy institution of that kind – launched a lab for blockchain technologies in fintech.

The lab is expected to collaborate with startups and also promote blockchain, using, among other tools, educational programs.

A few months earlier, Sberbank became Russia’s first lender to join Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA).

In addition, Sberbank is already running about two dozen blockchain-related pilot projects, the lender said. Details of only one have been revealed so far. It is being implemented in collaboration with the federal anti-monopoly service, focusing on cutting out paperwork by adopting blockchain-based databases.

Russian Ambiguity Toward Cryptocurrencies

Blockchain advocates in the Kremlin hope that projects announced so far will prove the viability of the blockchain technology for the Russian economy and lead to its wider adoption.

However, when it comes to cryptocurrencies and ICOs, many state officials are ambivalent about blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Their statements mostly range from warnings about risks of cryptocurrencies and ICOs to calls for regulation of the space.

Still, steps towards regulation of the crypto space have been slow so far. The finance ministry and the Bank of Russia have come with a draft law on cryptocurrencies, but it is believed to be an early version, as the two agencies differ on many issues.

In any case, 2018 is likely to be a crucial year for the crypto space in Russia and by the end of the year, we are likely to see at least some fruit of the first blockchain investments and see the direction, in which state regulation of the space is likely to move.

Do you think Russia will be a leader in blockchain and fintech services? Tell us what you think in the comments.

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