Vitalik Buterin, ethereum’s inventor, and Sergey Gorkov, Chairman of Vnesheconombank (VEB), better known as Russia’s Development Bank according to wikipedia, have signed a partnership agreement according to a press release.
“The agreement provides for a long-term and effective partnership in the implementation of projects using distributed blockchain technology and the Ethereum platform, the formation of an expert community on the Ethereum platform, and the joint development and implementation of educational programs for training specialists in distributed ledgers and the Ethereum platform based on Vnesheconombank’s Competence Center,” the press release says according to a rough translation.
The state bank is operating within a framework led by the First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov who oversees a working group that has been set up to implement blockchain technology in the government.
The Competence Center itself is geared towards serving domestic companies and government bodies by gaining know-how in innovative technologies, developing blockchain based platforms, as well as training personnel and popularizing their products. Gorkov said:
“We unite the efforts of all interested parties and create the first Competence Center in Russia for state companies and authorities, forming an ecosystem of innovations. Their skills and achievements here will bring both Russian developers and world leaders in innovative breakthrough industries. We are pleased to supplement VEB’s experience and expertise with the competence of Ethereum, the leading developer of block-based platforms.”
The center has not yet opened. It will do so next month, based in Moscow, where developers of the ethereum platform will work together with employees of the Competence Center.
“Cooperation between Ethereum and VEB gives a unique opportunity to engage in research and development on the use of blockchain technology for public administration and accelerate the adaptation of this technology to government organizations in the Russian Federation,” Vitalik Buterin said.
The partnership agreement has been somewhat controversial. The government owned bank, which is not involved in retail activities but in supporting economic development and diversification, has been subject to US sanctions since July 2014, prohibiting any US citizen from engaging in any economic activity with the bank.
That brought it to the center of attention after Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, apparently met with the state bank’s chairman while they were under sanctions. Causing a highly politicized storm of sorts.
However, Buterin has declared a philosophy of “political neutrality.” Presumably because the Russian born Canadian citizen probably has little choice, but to focus on the technology itself, rather than play geopolitical favorites.
He, of course, is working with many US banks through the Ethereum Enterprise Alliance, businesses in China where Devcon2 was held last year, plenty in Europe, and so on.
But Russia does stand out for one title in this space. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, is the highest official to show awareness of blockchain technology so far, after briefly meeting with Buterin in June this year.
Since then, Russia has seemingly changed their tune. It appears they see something of perhaps strategic interest in blockchain technology, but they are a late comer.
Britain leaped forward, as far as this space is concerned, in 2014 after seeing an opportunity to grab New York’s title as the financial capital of the world following their bitlicense debacle.
American private enterprise is ahead of the rest, but at state level they are far behind even perhaps China which has, at a state level, seemingly been signaling some hostility towards this space recently.
Some German companies are light years ahead at an industrial level, even more than US private enterprise. While Estonia stands out as a pioneer at state level, taking some bold moves to digitize their civil service.
Switzerland is trying to build a safe heaven for this space, something apt considering their political neutrality. While Japan has gone further than any nation in declaring digital currencies as legal tender, quickly providing an alternative to China after they seemingly changed their tune earlier this year.
One final notable nation is South Korea. Their citizens have fallen in love with this space, but we are not aware of developments at state or private enterprise levels except that Samsung, a company which provides some 20% of South Korea’s GDP, has joined the Ethereum Enterprise Alliance.
Within this picture, Russia is far behind at all levels, but they do stand out because it appears Putin himself is encouraging development or exploration of blockchain technology. Probably because he has realized Russia would fall far behind if they don’t try and see what this new innovation is and what it achieves.
Especially as this space has grown to a $170 billion market, with new business models being created, new frameworks and perhaps even new paradigms.
UPDATE: There has apparently been a “misunderstanding.” Rather than a partnership with the Ethereum Foundation, Buterin is to form a new entity, called Ethereum Russia, which is to collaborate with the state bank.