Financial director of Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation from Russia
Anna Chekhovich, financial director of Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) from Russia. Targeted by Putin’s regime, the foundation has gradually lost access to financial institutions. FBK has been using Bitcoin since 2015 to help overcome financial repression. At that time the Russian government began blocking the bank accounts of various foundations, even those very loosely connected to the FBK. Navalny and his family have also had their personal accounts frozen as did many people who worked on the FBK team. Bitcoin has given them a financial tool away from the reach of Putin’s regime.
Testimonial of Anna Chekhovich:
Since 2017, I have been working as its CFO. The Anti-Corruption Foundation is an organisation founded by Alexei Navalny. As many of you know, Alexei Navalny is now tortured in a Russian prison, he is constantly held in a freezing punitive detention cell in inhumane conditions, deprived of access to much needed medical help.
For years, Mr. Navalny’s foundation and its staff have been persecuted in Russia. Since 2016, the ACF had been collecting a part of the donations in cryptocurrency. It was already clear at that time that collecting only fiat donations was unsafe for both the foundation and some donors, since the Russian banking system was fully controlled by the regime.
In 2021, after Alexei Navalny’s arrest, the ACF was recognized as an extremist organisation, and was forced to leave Russia. Over 500 journalists and 70 human rights organisations and media outlets were forced to leave Russia as well. Most of these organisations have moved to EU countries, where they registered legal entities to continue their activities.
We, activists, were forced to leave Russia because of all the politically motivated allegations that we faced there. Most of those who left, like me, are not known to the international community. One of the serious problems that we face: we cannot open a simple bank account because of banks’ AML compliance, or our bank accounts get closed without any explanation. Western banks treat us as potential money launderers, our transactions are treated as suspicious. We have to live without bank accounts which is impossible nowadays. The bank compliance process is not transparent and we cannot appeal or change banks’ decisions. For example, in Georgia, banks close bank accounts to the Russians without any explanation, or sometimes, for a donation to the Ukrainian military (ВСУ).
Today, the Anti-Corruption Foundation is registered in Lithuania as NGO Future Russia Foundation. In addition to working on major opposition and anti-corruption projects, the foundation has to financially support political prisoners: Alexei Navalny, Lilia Chanysheva, and many others. The ACF covers lawyers’ fees, and supports our activists in Russia. All payments are targeted, averaging no more than 500 euros.
Although all founders of the Future Russia Foundation are EU citizens, for a long time it could not even open an account, just because it has the word “Russia” in its name. More than 15 banks refused to open accounts for our NGO. In the end, we were able to open bank accounts, but the foundation cannot make any payments towards Russia through the banking system because the country is under sanctions. Even if it were possible to make such payments, it would put any recipient of funds in Russia at risk in the absence of proper protection against requests from third countries for such information.
Humanitarian aid is now only possible through cryptocurrency transfers, which remain uncontrolled and invisible to the Russian authorities. But today, the vast majority of European banks refuse to conduct transactions related to cryptocurrency. Over the last year we failed to find a bank that would allow us to buy cryptocurrency directly from the fund’s accounts. Paysera payment system closed our account after an attempt to buy BTC.
The EU has banned all crypto-asset wallets, accounts, or custody services providing crypto payments of Russians within the framework of new sanctions against Russia. All crypto payments from Russians to European wallet providers are forbidden now. It means that NGOs like ours as well as human rights defenders cannot support politically persecuted people in Russia. We have completely lost the ability of using European trustworthy crypto exchange services.
Thus, it has become absolutely impossible for the foundation to financially support activists who, risking their freedom and lives, are fighting the regime while in Russia. Most human rights organisations that have left the country have also encountered this problem.
Most initiatives to regulate cryptocurrencies in the EU refer to the misuse of money. Among other things, the use of cryptocurrency by Russian officials as a way to circumvent sanctions is mentioned. Russia circumvents sanctions in other ways, using countries that are friendly to it, and meanwhile, having been deprived of assistance from human rights organisations and NGOs, the opposition potential inside the country is declining at a colossal rate.
Regulations and restrictions on crypto-transactions will not play a significant role in the fight against sanctions circumvention, but they will cause enormous damage to the activities of activists and human rights organisations. This will not stop the officials, but it will have a significant impact on opposition movements.