Ukrainian crypto mogul started arguing Binance, the biggest world crypto exchange. He claims Binance is lying about its ties with Russia. Binance strikes back accusing him of serving his own interests amidst the war.
Recently Ukraine became literally the first European country to legalize the digital assets industry.
Since mid-March 2022 all the crypto exchanges in the country are legal. Moreover, the Ukrainian government now guarantees judicial protection of virtual assets rights.
But here is the hook: Ukraine is still in fight with Russian occupants. And worldwide Russian canceling already hit Ukrainian crypto legalization.
The head of Ukraine’s Blockchain Association Mykhailo Chobanian claims that Binance is helping Ukrainians to break the war-time law about currency operations. Moreover, according to him Binance is cooperates with the Russian government.
Being the biggest crypto exchange in the world, Binance didn’t hesitate to respond.
Binance’s representative claim that Chobanian simply tries to eliminate his competitors as he owns KUNA, the biggest Ukrainian crypto exchange.
Things get a bit more complicated because of the scandal with the $10 million donation allegedly made to Ukraine by Binance. So let’s dive into this.
When did the mess start?
Mykhailo Chobanian is quite a figure in Ukrainian crypto industry.
Not only is he the founder and presumably the owner of the leading Ukrainian crypto exchange KUNA, but also the head of Ukraine’s Blockchain Association. Media often calls Chobanian a ‘a crypto banker for the government’.
Mykhailo Chobanian hit Binance with critics during his appearance at the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs hearing .
Chobanian claims Binance is working with the Russian government despite global sanctions.
“The problem with Binance is not just that they still continue working on both sides, it’s that they showed cooperation with the Russian government before the war, and as far as I know, they still continue cooperating with the Russian government,” KUNA founder said.
He asked Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao to decide whether they should stand in dealing with Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
Despite the Russian market being important for the Binance, Chobanian had no proof that the exchange is actively working with the Kremlin.
When Putin invaded Ukraine in February a Binance spokesperson said that the platform had no plans to ban all Russian users. Instead, Binance promised to take action against those Russian who got to the sanctions lists.
In 2019 Changpeng Zhao even said Russia was Binance’s key market, and said that ‘they are always looking for partners in any community, especially in Russia.’
Zhao also thinks that it’s unethical to block all Russians from the crypto exchange and that financial sanctions aren’t a ‘crypto-specific issue’. According to him, blocking all Russians from the crypto exchange would be ‘unethical’.
Is Binance crypto donation to Ukraine dubious?
Chobanian also said that Binance had not transferred its promised $10 million donation to Ukraine.
“They said that they donated $10 million to the Ukrainian government. Well, I haven’t seen that $10 million. No one knows where that went,” he said.
Earlier Binance said that it would send the money to Ukrainian intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations for humanitarian relief.
“The first thing we did as a crypto community in Ukraine was to shut down all ruble operations because that was a big hole in the sanctions list. Unfortunately, not all crypto companies followed our lead, mainly Binance,” Chobanian claims.
Crypto fuels banned foreign exchange transactions in Ukraine
The cherry on the sundae is the temporary war-time ban on foreign exchange transactions in Ukraine. Ukrainians can’t legally buy or sell foreign currency during the war. Official exchange rates are fixed at pre-war levels. All that opens doors for illegal currency exchange market with substantially higher exchange rates.
But digital assets legalization actually made a loophole in Ukrainian legislation. Since crypto is legal now Ukrainians can officially buy foreign currencies even during the war. It’s about the direct stablecoins p2p -purchase or foreign fiat money converting.
And Chobanian hinted that Binance is helping Ukrainians to get around the law and withdraw the currency from the country.
“From February 24 till March 16, about $500 million was withdrawn, most of which has gone through Binance,” he suggested with references to his sources.
So the Binance was forced to block direct p2p transactions for Ukrainian banks’ internal UAH accounts. Now Ukrainians can only use the p2p on the platform for sending their national currency to the foreign currency account and then converting it into stablecoins or USD, EUR, GBP, etc.
There is also a restriction on the quantity of money sent to the foreign currency accounts.
Why does everybody care about Russians using crypto?
In the nutshell, the Kremlin has totally changed its rhetoric about crypto after invading Ukraine. Now the Russian government wants to legalize digital assets despite they called it ‘money for terrorists’ just a few months ago.
The legalization bill is pretty weird as the Kremlin proposes to put harsh restrictions on stablecoins circulation and regulate all the exchanges, taxes, etc.
Additionally, the Russian Rubble exchange rate started falling drastically, so crypto became very convenient and safe for people there.
Obviously, some of the wealthiest Russians are also using crypto platforms to withdraw their money abroad.
But the biggest services already have a decision for this problem. Since the invasion, Coinbase and others started banning thousands of crypto addresses linked to Russians who were sanctioned or engaged in illicit activities.
So the hitch is not to force all crypto exchanges to ban everything linked with Russia. But to make sure that Russian criminals – especially government and army criminals – just can’t hide their money with crypto.
Even Chobanian agreed that crypto can be useful for Russians who oppose the war and are trying to leave their country.
“The only way for them to exist outside of Russia right now is crypto, probably. Obviously, not being able to buy a house or a car, but at least you can survive,” he claimed.
Who is Mr. Chobanian and what is his interest?
Besides heading Ukraine’s Blockchain Association Chobanian is also a co-founder of the AidForUkraine crypto fund of the Ukrainian Ministry of Digital Transformation.
Bloomberg politely calls him ‘the father of his country’s crypto scene’. Luckily, not the ‘godfather’.
Chobanian is also trying to launch the first Ukrainian central bank digital currency (CBDC). He thinks that U.S. dollars are useless in Ukraine as more and more people are going into crypto.
“Earlier there were a lot of crypto skeptics in the government, banks, and the military. But now the country saves lives every single minute with crypto,” Chobanian commented.
So nobody should have the reasons not to believe him. But the conflict of interest between his KUNA exchange and Binance is clearly seen.
How will it all end?
Lately, Binance published a big comment on Chobanian accusations, rejecting all of them. The platform acknowledged it has blocked crypto access for the sanctioned Russians and their ties.
“We believe that some media outlets do not see the obvious, that is, Mikhail Chobanyan’s blatant use of this conflict to spread disinformation that is easy to verify,” Binane responded.
Сounter-charges were also filed.
The Binance’s spokesperson noted that KUNA exchange continues to work with the Russian market, exchanging ‘millions of dollars daily’ for such companies as CryptoXchange and Bizlato.
Binance also said that Chobanian lied about their donations to Ukraine. It claims to have allocated $10 million for humanitarian work in Ukraine.
Chobanian responded that the European Union should investigate whether the Binance crypto exchange is “cooperating” with the Russian government or not.
“If Binance is innocent, I will say I’m sorry. If Binance is not, then the EU will have to deal with it,” Chobanian said.
It seems the Ukrainian legal crypto machine began to slip before the start.
Thankfully it isn’t the biggest problem in the country involved in a full-scale war.