Last month, when I was at the Ethereal Conference in Tel Aviv and attending the Women in Blockchain breakfast, a young woman plopped herself down next to me. She looked at me and my nametag, and smiled, knowingly.
“So nice to finally meet you in person!” she said. “I had seen your name on the attendee list and wanted to say hello.”
I looked at her nametag but neither her name, which was decidedly Slavic, nor the small crypto company where she worked, sounded even remotely familiar. “I’m sorry, but…” I said.
“Oh, you knew me before by my Western name,” she said, giving me a name that was indeed familiar. I had worked with her online, on a big piece I had done over a period of months. I had always believed, however, that her crypto startup was Israeli.
But as the woman and I chatted, it became clear that the company, as well as she, were both Russian.
Why the cloak and dagger? Why do Russians in crypto go to such lengths to hide their identity?
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The cryptic crypto scene in Russia
It turns out that US and EU sanctions—or at least the fear of them, plays a part. So do negative feelings people in those places appear to have related to hacking elections, killing Russian defectors (and British citizens) abroad, and a sense that in the often lawless world of crypto, things can be even more lawless and unregulated in Russia.
Anyone who’s been on the journalism side of crypto for a while can tell you that every day brings email solicitations from PR people with suspiciously bland, Western-sounding names, who are looking to buy links or place content on behalf of their murky crypto companies. And anyone who’s tried to probe deeper pretty quickly figures out that the company is Russian.
As a long time resident of St. Petersburg, Russia (and a slightly shorter time as a journalist in the crypto space) I’m not as surprised as most when people who…