While fintech companies shun Russia, cheaters and pro-Russian banks rush to take their place, Visa and MasterCard do nothing

Since the beginning of the full-scale war in Ukraine, the Russian fintech industry and banks have been heavily sanctioned, so now, Russian and foreign payment services keep inventing ways for Russians to avoid those restrictions. This leads to further enabling Russia’s military-crazed regime, giving the Russian economy the means to keep its army fed and supplied, so it can go on killing citizens of Ukraine. The AIN.UA and AIN.Capital team shares the loopholes being used by Russians and the Russian economy to support their military efforts.

Fintech businesses leave the Russian market

During more than 100 days of a full-scale Russian military aggression toward Ukraine, Russian troops invaded over 3,600 Ukrainian cities and towns, firing more than 2,400 missiles into Ukraine, hitting and destroying residential areas, hospitals, daycares, schools, churches, maternity homes, killing tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians, including 263 children.

The unprovoked Russian war puts at stake not only Ukraine’s safety and very existence but also the lives of millions of people worldwide that rely on Ukrainian grain to fight off famine. Ukraine’s ports are blocked by the Russians. So the Russian government is effectively blackmailing the rest of the world by demanding the lifting of the sanctions in exchange for allowing the transport of Ukrainian grain.

All this makes many international businesses wonder whether profits from the Russian market are indeed worth risking their reputation and financial stability. Many fintech companies are among them. 

Who left and who stayed

Since the beginning of the war, many global fintech services have left the Russian market. There are several reasons for that. First and foremost, there is the simple fact that the Russian market and its assets have become toxic and risk-bearing for any transparent international business. Some of the global companies that try to leave the Russian market are literally afraid to get their staff members imprisoned by the Russian government or worse.

Many fintech companies are genuinely outraged by Putin’s regime and the atrocities of the Russian army, as well as lies and threats to other nations voiced by Russian diplomats. So they leave the Russian market, often — for good. And there is always the risk of more financial sanctions imposed on the Russian market, effectively cutting it off from the rest of the world.

Among those who left, there are many renowned banks — Deutsche Bank, EBRD, BNP Paribas, financial and payment systems: American Express, Visa, Mastercard, Binance, Bloomberg, Paysend, Payoneer, Google and Apple Pay, and many others.

But some companies rush to fill the Russian market in their stead. Cheaters, banks, and payment systems from Russia, Russia-affiliated or residing in Russia-friendly states businesses, keep inventing ways for Russian users to avoid restrictions or openly violate the sanctions.

For example, one of the most popular loopholes is allowing Russian users to use international bank cards abroad. Kazakh, Belarussian, and Uzbek banks and services such as KazReg, Kaspi, Alfa-Bank Belarus, and Kapitalbank keep issuing bank cards to Russian users that can be used for payments abroad, thus violating Visa and MasterCard restrictions. These loopholes are so popular that Russian users have already coined a name for them — card tourism.

What can be done

The AIN.UA and AIN.Capital team has gathered information on such loopholes with the help of dozens of financial experts and hundreds of concerned people from Ukraine and many other countries.

We are now publishing this list in the open access. So that any regulatory body, NGO, or media would be able to use this information to investigate the ways by which Russian and Russia-affiliated companies are surpassing the financial sanctions and restrictions, enabling Russia to continue its war efforts. 

These limitations are put on the Russian market for a reason — to stop Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine and its people. Money that keeps flowing into the Russian economy is the very same money that keeps sponsoring the murder of Ukrainian nationals and the ruination of Ukrainian cities. So it is crucially important to prevent Russian agents from being able to use workarounds and thus ignore the financial sanctions and restrictions.

The AIN.UA and AIN.Capital team submitted this information to the top-level management of Visa and MasterCard payment systems. At first, Visa responded to our concerns and this, in particular, led to the shutdown of the Bankoff service. But for several weeks now we’ve heard no further response on the matter.