A Crypto-Cherry Broken In Russia

Paul Goncharoff

Last week an entrepreneur from Singapore who was attending the World Cup here in Moscow contacted me. He asked me whether I would be willing to consult him on setting up a small manufacturing facility in a Russian region and wanted someone to advise him on how best to proceed. The project was interesting, and I told him my standard monthly retainer fee, payable in rouble equivalent to my official Sberbank account.

At this he responded, “Will you accept Etherium (ETH)”? This was my first such business proposal and while I follow the cryptocurrency market, doing so is mostly as a pulse and trend indicator as I have not used or traded in them myself. This seemed to be a timely opportunity to experience what sort of path had to be walked to be paid in rubles after receiving ETH.

I was not too worried about the value nosedive many altcoins were and are going through, as I would be paid the rouble equivalent value of ETH on the day of transfer. The sum was not huge, so the exchange risk to my way of thinking was acceptable.

Putting on a confident face I said, “OK, let’s try it – I’ll get back to you with my wallet address”. Inside I had my doubts, but as with any new project, 90% can be resolved with some digging, and the usual 10% left to timing and fortune.

Phoning around some of my contacts it was recommended that I try and open my first (and so far only) account, or ‘address’ using a website called “My Ether Wallet” (https://www.myetherwallet.com/). The process was simple but seemed to take forever, as the terms used were unfamiliar to me. One simple example, the word “Gas” has a default value, it actually means the price enabling the movement of a transaction, and it is adjustable depending on your urgency requirements.

Lots of anxiety was expressed over security, passwords, private keys, and so on. I figured that my incoming ETH amount was not so large as to get my knickers in a twist. There were many options, from offline hard wallets, and other ways and means to secure altcoins. I simply wanted to receive my ETH and exchange it for locally usable rubles for now.

I was informed after I went through the My Ether Wallet registration hoops, that I finally had an address, which now can receive ETH. Happily, I copied and pasted that address, sending it to my entrepreneur for further action.

The ball was now in his court. He was no doubt busily experiencing the many attractions of Russia and football, as it took him a few days to call and arrange to meet. He looked a bit haggard, said he could not remember all the details of his whirlwind days and especially nights, or the faces and names, no doubt he was filled with the positive spirit of Russia.

He related to me over his espresso that one young woman even said that he was “filled with positive Russian spirits”, that may have been the vodka, or the stars in her eyes. As we were chatting and sipping our coffees, he made the ETH transfer there and then on his iPad. The rest was now up to me.

Later that evening I logged on to my ether wallet, and saw that I had an amount of ETH in my address that was roughly equivalent to the rouble sum agreed. Now that I had the ETH’s, how was I going to exchange them into roubles, how to transfer them into my Sberbank MasterCard account?

Seems I needed another ‘wallet’ as ‘My Ether Wallet’ was simply a repository on the Blockchain of things where my “address” was one part of the worldwide crypto ledger.

My next step by necessity brought me to ‘MetaMask’ (https://metamask.io/) which was both recommended to me by my crypto-savant friends, and conveniently accessible from ‘My Ether Wallet’. This was on the surface simple, but using was a challenge.

The challenge was largely due to unfamiliarity, and the way my analog brain was hardwired. I was comparing and rationalizing with known to me traditional banking terms, norms and customs. It took a while, and several missteps to figure out the true simplicity of the mechanism and get my brain to shift gears.

What did not help and made matters a bit crazy were the several instructional or tutorial videos that dealt with ‘My Ether Wallet to MetaMask’ transition. If you have a sense of humor, you can see what I mean by watching some of these tutorials (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YeyTF5lalE, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grsBwSDSeuQ, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8VeLcQVMYc). That quickly confirmed to me that enunciation, ordered thinking and clear wording might be heading for the dustbin of time. I shudder to think if this ‘newspeak’ is to replace the language and mores of social interaction. Still, needs must and I had to get on with the transfer.

I now have several subaccounts due to my blundering with my long-suffering ETH finally nestled into one of them. This was a cause for celebration, and I stopped for the day with follow-through put off until tomorrow.

That night I had a disturbing dream where my newly established small ETH address was being stalked and hunted by vicious neer-do-wells and denizens of the deep web (all chattering in Russian!). On waking and spurred by the vision, I urgently tried to make my ETH, which were now on MetaMask to magically become rubles on my MasterCard.

One site I was suggested to visit was Coinbase. I did that and they had a pre-canned reply that as I am located in Russia, I could not use their services inside Russia at this time. Perhaps later, post sanctions or some such.

One friend suggested I use local Russian web exchanges of which it seems there are more than 360, and that many are officially linked with Sberbank (https://www.bestchange.ru/ethereum-to-sberbank.html).

Scrolling through that lengthy list, I settled on a good rate, Sberbank linkage, and high approval rating (at that moment) (https://www.wmglobus.com). It is a very user-friendly site, as are several others I looked at. It also had an English language service although whoever translated their instructions could have used an experienced language editor and not simply Google Translate.

The time to fish or cut bait had arrived. I registered onto that exchange, got a confirmation by email and confirmed with response on the same email note. Then I logged in to the exchange.

Again, some delays in comprehending terminology and word usages, but after a bit I simply entered all data, however my name had to be entered in Cyrillic characters. It was now time to try to exchange a small piece of ETH. The exchange sent me the address, which represented my account for that transaction which I copied. I then had to confirm in my MetaMask wallet, and paste the destination address. As soon as I hit the send from my MetaMask wallet, I had to confirm on the exchange site that I sent the agreed ETH to them. Meta Mask deducted $0.30 for the transfer.

This happened at 10:33 in the morning. At 10:33.45, I had confirmation that the exchange had received and confirmed the incoming ETH. They also reflected the commission charged which was 0.05%. At 10:34.30, I received an SMS from my Sberbank account informing me that I now have the agreed amount of usable roubles usably credited in my account. This happened on Sunday!

Whatever one may think of cryptocurrencies, once the setting up and familiarization with necessary details is done and one is operational; the process of cryptocurrency movement is incredibly fast, inexpensive and without time constraints as it works 24/7 worldwide.

Now that I have tried it, I can see how the blockchain can and will dramatically disrupt traditional banking in fairly short order. What of the many cryptocurrencies? That one day we will probably see sovereign cryptocurrencies replacing what we have known so far in history.

The fiat currencies of the world, the USD, EURO, YEN and so on are in fact cryptocurrencies as they are electronic representations of value as much as ETH is. The difference and advantage of cryptocurrencies is the direct user/system interface that allows for far nimble and unencumbered trade. This difference may be the disruptor that will pressure sovereign currencies to integrate many of the blockchain enabled checks and balances as our timeline moves forward.

Meanwhile, I am off to a Sberbank ATM to withdraw some paper roubles to exchange with an Azerbaijani butcher for a nice beef roast, and perhaps a kilo of Iranian pistachios while watching the final game of the 2018 World Cup.

Paul Goncharoff©RussiaKnowledge 16.7.18