Jailed Russian activist Alexey Navalny and his team have received around $300,000 in bitcoin donations in just over a month. His movement has been accepting cryptocurrency since 2016 as a means to make it harder to track funding.
While transactions made in the cryptocurrency are public, they are encrypted to mask the identities of those behind the payments, so Navalny can anonymously receive donations from both individuals and organizations. This means the activist can easily hide who is funding him, whether from home and abroad.
The rise in receipt of bitcoin payments could, of course, also play into the hands of Russian officials, who have accused the dissident of receiving funding from foreign governments.
Navalny received hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2021, and there was a mini-surge in donations following his alleged poisoning in August 2020. Overall, his two wallets have received 730 bitcoin since their creation, which is now worth in the region of a staggering $35 million. However, many of those donations were made long before the recent surge in bitcoin value, which has trebled in value since November 2020.
While most donations are less than $1,000 each, the largest single gift received this year was one whole bitcoin, worth around $47,000, on January 24. However, according to blockchain data, all but 1.49 bitcoin ($70,000) have been removed from the fund, potentially having been converted into fiat currency.
As well as the benefit of anonymity, using bitcoin also allows Navalny’s aides to access cash. In 2020, the opposition figure had his bank accounts frozen and an apartment seized, after a court ordered his team to pay 88 million rubles ($1.1 million) in a libel case to Evgeny Prigozhin, the man dubbed ‘Putin’s chef’ by Western media.
While bitcoin is not legal tender in Russia, a bill signed by President Vladimir Putin last summer allowed for cryptocurrency assets to be counted on a par with physical assets, enabling Russian citizens to legally own virtual money from the start of 2021. Before then, currencies such as bitcoin were in a legal ‘grey zone’, having been neither legalized nor prohibited.
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