Bitcoin jumps 13% as Russia-Ukraine conflict continues and U.S. imposes further sanctions

PUBLISHED: Tue, 01 Mar 2022 14:14:10 GMT
Arjun Kharpal
CNBC
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Key Points
  • Bitcoin jumped 13% on Tuesday continuing its sharp rebound as the Russian war with Ukraine continues and the U.S. ratchets up sanctions.
  • Bitcoin proponents have seen bitcoin as a safe haven asset or “digital gold,” but that definition has unraveled recently. One expert said that is changing and bitcoin is having a “watershed” moment.
  • Debate has also been raging over whether bitcoin could be used by Russia to evade sanctions.
A visual representation of bitcoin.
STR | NurPhoto via Getty Images

Bitcoin jumped 13% on Tuesday continuing its sharp rebound as the Russian assault on Ukraine continues and the U.S. ratchets up sanctions.

The cryptocurrency was up more than 13% at $43,500.16 as of 3:03 a.m. ET after hitting a high in the past 24 hours of $44,165.90, according to CoinDesk data. That rally comes after cryptocurrency prices plunged last week as risk assets such as stocks sold off following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ether was up nearly 11% at $2,922.86.

Over the years, bitcoin proponents have touted the cryptocurrency as “digital gold,” an asset that provides a safe haven for investors during times of turmoil or even as a potential hedge against inflation. But bitcoin has not performed that way. Instead, it has been more correlated to the movement of stock prices, even as inflation continues to hit multi-year highs and a military conflict plays out. That case for bitcoin as digital gold has unraveled in recent weeks.

Vijay Ayyar, vice president of corporate development and international at crypto exchange Luno, said that could be changing.

“Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are arguably having their watershed moment against backdrop of global uncertainty and tension related to the Russia-Ukraine crisis,” Ayyar told CNBC.

Read more: Stocks rise; rouble jumps over 1% ahead of U.S.-Russia talks

“Crypto is decoupling from traditional markets and can be clearly seen in the performance.”

People have been donating cryptocurrency to the Ukrainian army too, “proving that crypto is fundamentally a technology that cannot be ignored,” Ayyar added.

He also said that a bottom for bitcoin was already forming as the war was getting underway.

Michael Rinko, venture associate at AscendEx, told CNBC on Monday that $38,000 was a key level for bitcoin.

“More people bought at $38,000 than at any other level above or below for a good margin,” he said.

Further sanctions

Bitcoin’s rally comes as the U.S. imposed further sanctions on Russia. Washington targeted Russia’s central bank, effectively prohibiting Americans from doing any business with the bank as well as freezing its assets within the U.S.

That comes on top of sanctions that have targeted oligarchs and Russia’s sovereign debt as well as moves aimed at cutting the country off from the global financial system.

Debate has been raging over whether bitcoin, which is not owned or issued by a single authority like a central bank, could be used by Russia to evade sanctions. But the amount of money that Russia would need to convert to and from bitcoin might be too much, according to Ari Redbord, head of legal and government affairs at TRM Labs.

Read more: The case for bitcoin as ‘digital gold’ is falling apart

“You’re going to see Russia attempt to circumvent the U.S. financial system by turning to crypto. I think the issue is … the liquidity just simply isn’t there,” Redbord told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.”

On Sunday, Mykhailo Fedorov, vice prime minister of Ukraine, asked major cryptocurrency exchanges to block the addresses of Russian users.

Binance, the world’s largest exchange, said it would freeze accounts for any Russians on the sanctions list, but would not “unilaterally” block accounts of all Russian users.

Other cryptocurrency exchanges took a similar stance.

— CNBC’s Tanaya Macheel contributed to this report.

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