Struggling under crippling economic sanctions and currency collapse, Russia is financially fleeing to a familiar safe haven: gold. And with the growing prevalence of cryptocurrencies, experts expect Vladimir Putin will also turn to the less familiar, non-tangible asset.
The gold standard
After a 2-year pandemic pause, Russia’s central bank announced this week it is restarting gold buying, returning to the country’s relentless effort to de-dollarize with bullion.
In times of crisis, the yellow metal is frequently a financial refuge for governments. But over the past decade, Russia has aggressively built up its gold reserves — now the fifth largest in the world — to act as a weapon against economic sanctions.
Since 2014, the country has been a repeated target for Western sanctions that have cost Russia an average of $50 billion per year in growth, according to estimates by the right-leaning think tank Atlantic Council.
Since 2014, the U.S. has sanctioned Russia over the illegal annexation of Crimea, 2016 and 2020 election interference, a 2018 nerve-agent attack against a former Russian spy on British soil, and now the invasion of Ukraine.
Russia initially paused buying gold in 2020 after prices surged at the start of the pandemic but largely held onto its stockpile since then. Ironically, the crisis of its own making — the Ukraine invasion — is sending gold prices rising again. Some analysts predict escalation could push the price above $2,000 per ounce.
The cryptocurrency chapter
In an increasingly isolated financial world, cryptocurrency could serve as an additional tool in Russia’s effort to de-dollarize. And as the ruble crashes, ordinary Russians are also seeking refuge in cryptocurrency. Trading volume between the ruble and Bitcoin spiked to a 9-month high this week, according to cryptocurrency researcher Kaiko.
This week, Bitcoin went from trading around a low near $35,000 to a high near $45,000.
“The prevailing narrative of Bitcoin being that digital gold, a censorship-resistant technology, especially when we see sanctions not only United States to Russia but China sanctioning Raytheon or Lockheed and Canada sanctioning some of their own citizens, I think this is going to become a bigger and bigger narrative and Bitcoin is going to continue to serve as one of the solutions,” investor and entrepreneur Anthony Pompliano said on CNBC.
While U.S. adversaries like Russia work like mad to reduce reliance on the dollar, the U.S. Treasury Department warned in October that digital currencies could erode the power of Western sanctions.