Alexey Navalny

Russian politician/anti-corruption lawyer Alexei Navalny is accepting donations in bitcoin in his newly-announced bid for the 2018 presidential election, according to the candidate’s website. The campaign also accepts Yandex.money, bank cards and PayPal.

First revealed by regional publication Coinfox, Navalny’s open acceptance of bitcoin marks another sign of the cryptocurrency’s rising acceptance in Russia, a nation whose government has sent mixed signals about bitcoin’s legal status.

On Tuesday, Leonid Volkov, head of Navalny’s electoral campaign tweeted that in the first 3.5 hours of his campaign, he received his first million rubles; 15% in bitcoin, 30% from PayPal and 55% from Yandex.

The campaign has received 20 BTC, $156,000 (1 million rubles).

Since the presidential race has not officially begun, the Navalny campaign’s bitcoin account is registered to Leonid Volkov. Navalny belongs to the Progress Party, according to LinkedIn.

Navalny has earned a reputation as an anti-corruption lawyer, having launched the Fund to Fight Corruption, according to the campaign website. He is running on an anti-corruption platform that promotes economic inclusion of all Russians rather than the oligarchy and the elites that control the majority of the country’s wealth.

Bitcoin’s Changing Status

Bitcoin cannot be blocked or banned since its transactions can be deemed as foreign currency transactions under Russian laws. A document by the federal tax authority deems the trading of bitcoin and other digital currencies as foreign currency transactions, according to Russian law.

The parallel means that bitcoin transactions do not require financial reporting to be submitted to authorities, which, by extension, means transactions of bitcoin cannot be prohibited.

In the same year, the Russian Finance Ministry repeatedly attempted to ban bitcoin in the country, going so far as to criminally prosecute adopters or miners of digital currencies in Russia.

Ban On Indefinite Hold

The fervor for banning bitcoin and other “money surrogates” has changed as the year has progressed, with the plan on indefinite hold since October and few or no developments since.

Deputy Finance Minister Alexei Moiseev, who led the charge to ban bitcoin in 2014, stated this year that in view of technological developments, a “frontal ban” of bitcoin will not do well.

Moiseev previously deemed bitcoin and cryptocurrencies as “surrogate currencies” while stating that the law to ban bitcoin will be passed in 2014, or 2015, at the latest. Such a law has not come to pass.

Moiseev and the Ministry of Finance proposed a 4-year prison sentence for bitcoin users late last year in an effort to enforce a new amendment to the criminal code. In what could be seen as a move to bring brief respite, the Ministry then proposed a 2-year “corrective labor” sentence – a combination of penal detention and forced labor – for bitcoin adopters.

However, a proposal in March 2016 saw the Ministry turn up its scrutiny further, amending that proposal to seek a 7-year prison term along with massive fines for bitcoin adopters and companies in the country.

Bitcoin Gains Support

Herman Gref, the CEO of Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, recently revealed in a public forum that he uses bitcoin.

Yabloko, a left-of-center party, has embraced cryptocurrency legislation in its parliamentary platform, while the right-of-center Party of Growth sought bitcoin donations in its parliamentary campaign.

Image from Wikimedia.