By Bradley Cooper and Suzanne Cluckey, editors, Blockchain Tech News
If you could use just one word to describe the Russian government’s relationship with cryptocurrencies, it would have to be “hostile.”
Unlike regulatory bodies in other countries that have taken a generally ambivalent stance toward virtual currencies, Russian authorities have actually toyed with the notion of rounding up bitcoin sellers and users and sending them to work camps.
So it might seem strange that the Burger King chain in Russia recently announced in a press release that it plans to launch its own virtual currency — the “Whoppercoin.”
‘Hold the rubles, hold the lettuce’
The cryptocurrency, which is powered by the Wave distributed ledger network, basically serves as a loyalty program that awards customers with one Whoppercoin for each ruble (2 cents) they spend at the chain.
Users can redeem 1,700 Whoppercoins for a free Whopper burger — earning a free sandwich for every $30 spent at Burger King Russia restaurants.
At first blush, the Whoppercoin might not seem all that incompatible with Russia’s crypto-opposition. After all, the currency acts more as a closed-loop loyalty program than any kind of actual financial instrument.
However, according to the release, the currency is transferrable and can be traded online. This is something traditional loyalty programs rarely allow, and it does help to make Whoppercoin seem more like a cryptocurrency and less like a glorified rewards program. Burger King Russia also said that it will launch a Whoppercoin app in the Apple Store and on Google Play.
“Now Whopper is not only a burger that people in 90 different countries love — it’s an investment tool as well,” said Ivan Shestov, head of external communication at Burger King Russia.
“According to the forecasts, cryptocurrency will increase exponentially in value. Eating Whoppers now is a strategy for financial prosperity tomorrow,” he declared, sounding very much indeed like a tech startup spokesperson touting a new virtual currency.
So, might this signal a measure of softening in the Russian government’s attitude toward virtual currency? It might.
‘Cryptocurrencies don’t upset us’
In a recent interview with Russian media outlet RBC, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov spoke positively of the potential of virtual currency — within certain regulatory limits.
“[P]eople think that they can quickly earn huge fortunes and all that,” he said. “But this is a very simplistic perception … A [blockchain] for us is not the ability to generate the equivalent of monetary value [but, rather] a mechanism that will provide a very professional, transparent and fast state service. Now we are looking at how to make it possible to provide services on the state register through a [blockchain] account.”
Dmitry Marinichev, an internet ombudsman for Vladimir Putin, recently demonstrated a more commercial interest in virtual currency, with the recent ICO for Russian Miner Coins, a company he co-owns, according to a report by Bloomberg.
“RMC plans to use semiconductor chips designed in Russia for use in satellites to minimize power consumption in computers for crypto-mining,” the article said.
Marinichev believes that this would allow Russia to challenge China’s grip on the global cryptocurrency mining market, seizing up to a 30 percent share for Russian miners.
It’s a far cry from work camps.
‘Hold those guys who sold their bitcoin’
Still, the Russian government has yet to develop a framework for virtual currency regulation, a fact that Shuvalov noted in his RBC interview. And the Russian government continues to carry out its prosecution of suspected money launderers using virtual currency.
In fact, authorities in Russian recently arrested three men for “illegal banking” after they cashed in $9 million in bitcoin. The country’s central bank also has frequently warned Russians against trading in cryptocurrency, as it did in this statement:
Given the high risks of circulation and use of cryptocurrency, the Bank of Russia considers it premature to admit cryptocurrencies, as well as any financial instruments nominated or associated with cryptcurrencies, to circulation and use at organized trades and in clearing and settlement infrastructure on the territory of the Russian Federation for servicing transactions with cryptocurrencies and derivative financial instruments on them.
In less complicated terms, the message is simply, “Have nothing to do with cryptocurrency.”
Unless it’s Whoppercoin. In that case …
‘Have it your way.’