Kraken CEO: If the exchange blocks Russian accounts, it must prohibit US traders

As Russian sanctions build-up, Kraken’s CEO, like with other exchanges, is issuing cautions against holding assets with centralised custodians.

Amid Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, crypto exchange CEOs such as Kraken’s Jesse Powell are releasing cautionary statements regarding safeguarding digital assets with centralised custodians — such as crypto exchanges.

What is the impending danger? Court judgments including crypto sanctions might compel exchanges to freeze Russian assets.

Global countries, led by the United States and the European Union, are imposing severe economic penalties on Russia.

Ukraine’s government has subsequently demanded that cryptocurrency exchanges block addresses associated with both domestic users and officials in Russia and Belarus, the latter of which has declared war on Ukraine in favour of Moscow.

Binance, Coinbase, and Kraken are all actively assessing the risk of international governments coercing them into isolating Russia-based cryptocurrency traders from the digital asset ecosystem.

According to Bloomberg, Binance has “taken procedures to identify sanctioned persons’ crypto wallets” and is “prepared to act.” Another significant exchange, FTX, is “talking with US and Bahamas government authorities” in response to rising legal issues.

Kraken, located in the United States, acknowledged that it may be compelled to comply with Russian restrictions. “I understand the reasoning behind this request [to restrict Russian users], but despite my profound love for the Ukrainian people, [Kraken] cannot freeze the accounts of our Russian customers in the absence of a legal need,” Kraken CEO Jesse Powell tweeted.

“Russians should be aware that such a requirement is possible,” Powell remarked in response to Ukrainian Vice President Mykhailo Fedorov.

Kraken already bans sanctioned cryptocurrency users, whether they are Russian or not. Powell continued by stating that keeping cryptocurrency on any third-party platform has dangers, particularly in nations where court orders may be used to freeze assets.

Powell said that Kraken would not confiscate or freeze Russian assets without a lawful government warrant.

Fedorov earlier said that any prospective blockage should not just be directed at Russian and Belarusian leaders, but also at “regular individuals.”

Economic sanctions on a broad scale — even those affecting ordinary Russians — are a viable alternative to direct military engagement. The majority of cryptocurrency exchanges adhere to sanctions and have done so for years, most notably under the order of the US Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Nonetheless, Federov’s plea prompted criticism from some who pointed to the millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency contributed to assist Ukraine’s military. Protos can confirm that the majority of Ukraine’s greatest crypto contributions are moving via local crypto exchange Kuna, where they are likely to be sold or otherwise converted to cash and used elsewhere.

“We’re able to purchase all of this merchandise in Europe using cryptocurrency,” Kuna CEO Michael Chobanian told CoinDesk.

“Many of my pals in the cryptocurrency business are assisting me. We’re handing them cryptocurrency, and they’re paying in euros.”

Powell had warned in February that governments might compel exchanges to freeze assets in reaction to rallies such as the Canadian “Freedom Convoy,” which included hundreds of truck truckers seeking an end to workplace vaccination requirements.

Canada shocked the world by freezing demonstrators’ bank accounts and blacklisting certain cryptocurrency addresses. GoFundMe attracted widespread criticism for withholding cash contributed to convoy demonstrators.

Not to add that Powell squandered no opportunity to poke fun at the US administration. “Moreover, if we were to voluntarily freeze the bank accounts of citizens of nations that attack and incite violence around the globe, the first step would be to freeze all US accounts,” he tweeted.

He described this hypothetical transfer as “not really a commercially feasible choice” for Kraken. Binance, like Coinbase and KuCoin, has indicated that it would only freeze accounts associated with sanctioned individuals.

According to a Coinbase spokesman (our emphasis): “Rather than that, we will continue to enforce any issued restrictions, including barring accounts and transactions involving sanctioned persons or businesses. Our objective is to promote economic liberty across the globe.”

“A unilateral and complete ban would penalise regular Russian people who are already experiencing unprecedented financial volatility as a consequence of their government’s actions towards a democratic neighbour. We will stay watchful as this invasion progresses and are fully dedicated to our role.”

According to the torrents of heated Ukraine takes from crypto users worldwide, the ecosystem is typically against war and in support of individual rights.

However, many investors store crypto assets on centralised exchanges like Kraken, which increases the possibility of government authorities ordering custodians to freeze funds.

And, in the end, whether their marketing departments like it or not, crypto exchanges will surely succumb to regulatory pressure.

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