Russian Billionaire Potanin Pushes for Crypto Assets, Not Currencies

Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin eyes to expand his exposure to digital financial assets’ markets, and sees instruments backed by physical assets squeezing out abstract and volatile means of exchange like cryptocurrencies.

Last Friday, the Russian branch of tokenization platform Atomyze, in which Potanin invested via his conglomerate Interros, became the first company included by the Bank of Russia in the register of information system operators allowed to issue digital financial assets.

Atomyze was established in November 2020. In 2021, Nornickel’s Global Palladium Fund (GPF) issued the first tokens via Atomyze — exchange traded commodities physically backed by metals produced by Nornickel.

“Digital financial assets are just the next stage,” the businessman told Bloomberg, recalling how paper money took over coins just to be replaced by cashless transactions.

According to Potanin, the development of digital assets, tokenization and the central bank’s digital ruble program can make the debate about cryptocurrency irrelevant.

He noted that regulators were wary of cryptocurrencies and stablecoins because they were in fact an uncontrolled issue of currency, while a token is like a contract that gives customers the opportunity to receive a product or service in digital form using the blockchain, an online ledger that tracks and verifies every transaction.

The businessman’s position echoes Russian law on digital financial assets, which came into force on January 1, 2021. The legislation allows authorized companies to issue their own tokens but bans the use of a cryptocurrency to pay for goods and services.

Potanin said that Interros planned to invest up to $1 billion in Atomyze and other fintech projects that could include banks and digital exchanges.

He plans to test the use of tokens in the real estate in the Arctic city of Norilsk, the foothold of his metals empire. Tokenized properties in the city, which is quite isolated from the mainland, may be easier to buy and sell, so that people’s mobility could be improved, Potanin argued.

Interros is also in talks with St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum to provide non-fungible tokens (NFTs) for its art collection so that the museum could use proceeds to fund restoration.

Notably, the Hermitage auctioned its first NFTs for digital copies of five artworks from its collection back in September via popular crypto exchange Binance, raising $444,500. As the law does not allow cryptocurrencies as payment method, the museum used intermediaries to settle the transactions.