Russia Out To ‘Own’ Blockchain As Competition Intensifies

‘Blockchain will belong to the Russians,’ a Russian spy reportedly tells standards delegates

Russia is out to “own” blockchain, a Russian spy told other countries’ delegates to a standards body meeting last year, in remarks that highlight growing geopolitical rivalries over the emerging ledger technology.

“Look, the internet belongs to the Americans – but blockchain will belong to us,” said Grigory Marshalko, the head of an International Standardisation Organisation (ISO) meeting on blockchain issues in Tokyo last year, according to a report by The New York Times.

“The internet belonged to America. The blockchain will belong to the Russians,” Marshalko reportedly told another unnamed delegate.

Some of the technologists at the Tokyo meeting were surprised to learn that three out of Russia’s four-person delegation, including Marshalko, worked for Russia’s FSB intelligence agency, the successor to the KGB, according to the Times.

Blockchain leadership

Blockchain was introduced with the Bitcoin digital currency, but is being developed for a wide array of purposes in which it can be used to validate transactions or even identities.

Russia, with a wealth of engineering and cryptography talent, has produced the blockchain-based Ethereum distributed computing platform, as well as a disproportionate number of blockchain experts and start-ups – 20 percent of the top 50 start-ups by funds raised as of late last year, according to figures published by Forbes.

Russia has expressed political backing for the technology, with President Vladimir Putin meeting briefly last year with Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin.

The US and China are also vying for blockchain leadership, with the US sending delegates from Microsoft and IBM – which have both invested in the technology – and China sending officials from its finance ministry to standards sessions, according to the Times report.

“To get behind (blockchain) and back it now is going to put people at an advantage, either politically or economically,” Gilbert Verdian, head of the British delegation to the ISO and head of Quant Network, told the Times.

Digital arms race

The report of Marshalko’s remarks in the US press, as much as the remarks themselves, highlight the increasing role that international rivalries are playing in next-generation technologies such as blockchain.

Earlier this year the US blocked Broadcom’s proposed record-breaking acquisition of Qualcomm on the grounds that it could harm the US’ 5G development efforts and allow Chinese firms such as Huawei to take the lead.

The artificial intelligence industry has also recently attracted billions of pounds in investment commitments from public- and private-sector bodies in the UK, France and the European Union as countries and regions look to boost their competitive position.

The EU is also backing a plan to accelerate the development of next-generation batteries for purposes such as electric cars and renewable energy, seeing it as one of the key technologies that will succeed the current automotive industry.

AI and autonomous vehicles are two of the key technologies the UK government named in its Industrial Strategy late last year.

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