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Putin’s Arch Nemesis

Russia’s opposition leader had received 658 Bitcoin to defeat Putin, and it is now worth $32 million.

Alexei Navalny recently received $300,000 in Bitcoin only for this year. Analysts state that it highlights Bitcoin’s role in challenging authoritarian regimes.

Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s movement has received 658 BTC in donations since 206 to engage a campaign against occupant strongman Vladimir Putin. Today, that Bitcoin is worth $32 million.

Navalny also received 6.242 BTC, now worth around $304,000, in donations only for 2021. Political analysts stated that Bitcoin donations give a lifeline for democracy activists from Russia and is still a useful tool to subvert authoritarian governments.

But Navalny’s campaign sent almost all of the Bitcoin to other wallets, which means that it could have been spent long before it could accumulate value; the wallet’s recent balance is worth around $300.

“In authoritarian regimes like Russia,” Alex Gladstein, Chief Strategy Officer at the Human Rights Foundation, said, “the government has total control over the banking system, but doesn’t control Bitcoin.”

Who is Navalny?

Navalny, Russia’s opposition leader, was poisoned in Siberia last August. Navalny blames Putin; the Kremlin denies any involvement.

After spending five months recovering in a hospital in Germany, the Russian government arrested Navalny upon his return to Russia on January 17, leading to protests in the country and demanding his release.

Since then, the wallet has spiked in Bitcoin donations, as first picked up by the cryptocurrency website Protos. A supporter donated a whole BTC the day after Navalny’s return.

From January 1 to February 11, supporters sent his wallet a total of 6.242 BTC, today worth $294,000. Since February 11, it has been found that supporters have sent Navalny another 0.01685528 BTC, worth $826. Today, Navalny’s campaign wallet sent 1.506 BTC, or $73,775, to a different address.

Gladstein stated that the surge in Bitcoin donations reflects the general interest in Bitcoin and “the outrageousness of Putin’s actions against Navalny,” citing the poisoning and his imprisonment.

The Bitcoin donation surge also followed a recent crypto liberalization in Russia – as of January 1, crypto is legally tradeable but cannot be used as an everyday currency.

Notwithstanding the recent liberalization, the Russian government has generally pursued a particularly tough policy on crypto that involved jail sentences for crypto holders to the bans on crypto-related websites, like the crypto exchange Binance.

“This follows the—now largely justified—view of the government that crypto presents a threat to the status quo,”

Filip Rambousek, a London-based political analyst specialized in Eastern Europe

“They can’t stop it, can’t censor it, have trouble linking Bitcoin activity to real-world IDs, and, perhaps most importantly, can’t devalue it,” said Gladstein.

Vitalik Buterin’s father, Dmitry Buterin, stated last week that he has made a plea to the Ethereum community to donate to Navalny’s movement.

“Putin met Vitalik Buterin in 2017, and there was a sentiment among some that Russia could go big on crypto,” said Rambousek, “but none of that has happened or is likely to happen.”

Last week, Vitalik’s father stated that “Putin is KGB, and those are the people who tortured and killed millions of Russians and Ukrainians. Can we trust him?”

Crypto as a form of activism

Unlike the other authoritarian governments like Venezuela or Iran, where crypto is hailed as a way to escape international sanctions, the Russian government treats it as a menace, elaborated Rambousek.

“Russia has a long track record of cyberwarfare like hackings or political bots,” he stated “but the Kremlin doesn’t have a history of using it to pursue its goals. To the relatively old, 90s-crafted class of senior officials, this is a threat rather than an opportunity.”

It means that activists can use Bitcoin to stay one step ahead of governments.

“Human rights activists should learn about using Bitcoin before their governments do,” said Gladstein, who leads the Human Rights Foundation’s fund for open-source Bitcoin development. “We want them to be on the leading edge and have the advantage moving forward.”

If Navalny becomes the Russian president, it will be interesting to observe whether his government embraces the crypto that aided him once.

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